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Vol. 80/No. 38      October 10, 2016

(feature article)

‘While Oscar López is in prison, we’re all in prison’

NEW YORK — Oscar López Rivera “is the spirit, the conscience, the symbol of the Puerto Rican People in their fight against colonialism,” legendary independence fighter Rafael Cancel Miranda said at a panel discussion at El Museo del Barrio here Sept. 24. “As long as Oscar is in prison, we are all in prison.”

The panel was one of three meetings here that honored Cancel Miranda and built support for the Oct. 9 protest in Washington, D.C., to demand freedom for López. At a Grito de Lares event at La Marqueta Retoña in East Harlem, 200 turned out to hear him, including many workers who live nearby.

Now 73 years old, López has been jailed in the United States for more than 35 years on frame-up charges of “seditious conspiracy” because of his actions to win independence for the U.S. colony.

Also speaking were López’s daughter Clarisa López, Hostos Community College professor Ana López and Margaret Power, a professor at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The panel was chaired by Félix Matos, president of Queens College.

Cancel Miranda, 86, spent 25 years in U.S. jails, first for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. Army just before the Korean War, and later for carrying out an armed protest in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954 together with Lolita Lebrón, Andrés Figueroa Cordero and Irving Flores. They carried out the action to answer Washington’s lie that Puerto Rico was no longer a U.S. colony.

The veteran independentista described several high points of the struggle of the Puerto Rican people against Spanish and then U.S. colonialism.

“My father was a survivor of the Ponce Massacre,” Cancel Miranda said, referring to March 21, 1937, when police attacked a peaceful demonstration demanding the freedom of jailed Nationalist Party leader Pedro Albizu Campos, killing 21 people.

Cancel Miranda noted that when he joined the armed protest in 1954, his father was in jail for violating a gag law that prohibited speaking out or circulating literature “with the intention of overthrowing” the government, a law aimed at independence supporters.

“How can we work with those of our brothers and sisters who have been brainwashed to believe they need the United States?” Cancel Miranda was asked during the discussion.

“We have to understand them,” he said. “In all colonies only a minority dare to fight” the colonial power. “They condition us since we are little kids” and foster dependence.

After 118 years of being a U.S. colony, “the miracle is that there are still Puerto Ricans who believe in ourselves and are fighting,” Cancel Miranda said. “I am not fighting against any Puerto Rican, no matter how brainwashed he is. … I’m fighting U.S. imperialism. That’s the enemy.”

Clarisa López read a letter from her father about Cancel Miranda. López was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the U.S. when he was 14. Unlike Cancel Miranda, López Rivera wrote, “I allowed myself to be drafted by the U.S. Army and ended up participating in an unjust and criminal war” in Vietnam.

After López returned, he learned about Cancel Miranda and the other nationalist prisoners and joined the campaign to free them, including “knocking on doors and talking with community residents.” After a decade they were successful and the last of the prisoners were freed Sept. 10, 1979.

Cancel Miranda noted that he and López passed through some of the same prisons. “To this day,” López wrote, “I still run into prisoners who spent time with him and ask about him.”

Cancel Miranda told the audience he met other political prisoners while in jail, including Native American activist Leonard Peltier and former Black Panther Herman Bell. Both are still in jail “for fighting for their people,” he said.

The U.S. government couldn’t break López’s spirit even after more than 12 years in solitary, Cancel Miranda said.

At the infamous Marion prison “the control units are 6 feet by 8 feet, the bars of the cell and the walls are all painted the same drab color,” Clarisa López said. When she and her daughter Karina visited her father there, they were separated by thick glass. “We would dress with really bright colors,” she said, “so that his eyes could have happiness.”

“My father is the freest man I know.”

For more information on the Oct. 9 protest and concert visit or
Related articles:
Grito de Lares rally protests colonial status of Puerto Rico
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