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Oscar Lopez Rivera Vows to Continue Fight for Puerto Rico Independence

The former political prisoner thanked progressive movements for supporting his decades-long struggle for a free Puerto Rico. Plus articles related to Lopez Rivera's release.

Oscar Lopez Rivera next to his daughter Clarissa Lopez (L) during a press conference in San Juan, May 17, 2017.,teleSUR

In his first hours of freedom after 36 years behind bars in U.S. prison, Puerto Rican independence leader Oscar Lopez Rivera vowed Wednesday to continue to fight for the freedom and independence of Puerto Rico while expressing solidarity with progressive movements across the Americas.

“During the years I was jailed I always thought I would return home,” Lopez said during a press conference in San Juan with the ocean at his back, thanking all the progressive organizations and world leaders who supported him and worked for his release over the years.

“You have a Puerto Rican that has never promoted sectarianism. I come here to fight and work, that’s what I know how to do,” Lopez Rivera said. “We can make Puerto Rico the nation that it has the potential to be.”

The life-long freedom fighter for Puerto Rico's decolonization and independence thanked Pope Francis, Argentina's Grandmothers and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, former Uruguayan President Jose "Pepe" Mujica, the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, as well as artists, activists and especially youth and children.

“It is is them who have in their hands the future of our country," said Lopez Rivera, dressed in black to represent his mourning for the friends and relatives who died while he was in jail for the past 36 years and to whom he never had a chance to say goodbye.

He also spoke out about the harsh austerity currently policies rocking the island in the face of a crippling debt crisis, stressing the importance of funding public education and applauding Puerto Rican students for being on the front lines of the struggle to defend education and resist colonial relations with Washington.

“Unity will make decolonization possible, there is no other option,” Lopez Rivera said. "Loving our country doesn’t cost anything — what will cost us is to lose it."

He also thanked Venezuela and all "those who defend the Bolivarian Revolution" and called for the U.S. to end its interference in the nation.

"I ask the U.S. to stop interfering in Venezuela, to stop using people and structures to reach countries and create a hostile environment with violence, and to have people lose because in the end it’s the people who lose.”

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was the first world leader to talk to Lopez Rivera and told him in a phone call Wednesday he wanted to thank the activist for his strength and kindness in his struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.

“A big hug — it was very touching to see you with you family,” Maduro said to Lopez Rivera. “Long live a free Puerto Rico, long live dignity.”

Lopez Rivera, in return, thanked Maduro for his support throughout the long process of waiting for his freedom.

“I feel Puerto Rican, but I also feel Venezuelan,” Lopez Rivera said to the president. “The truth of Venezuela will prevail, we are sure it will prevail, we hope the U.S. can't do what it has in mind and what it aspires to do.”

Lopez Rivera also criticized the financial oversight board put in place last year by U.S. Congress through the controversial law known as PROMESA to restructure the island's debt. He said that nothing that comes out of the oversight board — which has been widely criticized for undermining Puerto Rico's democracy and deepening colonialism — will be good for the island nation since it promotes sweeping privatization and gives benefits to international companies instead of small farmers in the country.

"They made us their guinea pig to do experiments and make us poorer," he said.

Lopez Rivera's daughter Clarisa Lopez Ramos thanked the worldwide support for her father and for the fight to protect the island's main public post-secondary education institution, the 70,000-student University of Puerto Rico, as it faces massive cuts as part of a harsh austerity plan to tackle the island's massive debt load.

“The daughters and sons of Oscar are the students at the University of Puerto Rico, resisting and fighting,” said Lopez Ramos, referring to the student movements that have launched strikes and other actions to protest the cuts. “Thank you, my dad returned home.”

A celebratory concert attended by thousands of Puerto Ricans is underway in Rio Piedras featuring artists, musicians and prominent individuals welcoming Lopez Rivera home.

Lopez Rivera returned to the island in February to serve out the final weeks before his freedom Wednesday on house arrest after former President Barack Obama commuted his sentence in January.

The activist thanked former U. S. presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who commuted the sentences of Puerto Rican political prisoners.

Recalling when he declined Clinton's 1999 offer for a pardon, the activist said he rejected it since other comrades were still jailed under poor conditions. “I believe in principles, and I believe in not leaving anyone behind."

Finally, he said he will tour the 78 municipalities of the island now that he is free, as he has promised in the past.

"Long live Puerto Rico, of love and liberty!” Lopez Rivera said. “Always in resistance and struggle!”

Puerto Rico's Oscar Lopez Freed After 36 Years in US Prison…

teleSUR, May 17, 2017

Lopez Rivera was the longest-held political prisoner in the United States from Latin America.

Puerto Rican independence leader Oscar Lopez Rivera was released Wednesday from house arrest in Puerto Rico after former U.S. President Barack Obama commuted his sentence in January, days before Donald Trump was inaugurated.

"I thank the whole world, and I ask for love for the whole world," Lopez Rivera said to media in his first words once he was freed, adding that now that he has returned to the island, he will continue his fight for independence and reach out to Puerto Ricans to hear about their needs.

"I like to listen," Lopez Rivera said. "I want to visit each municipality, listen and see what we can do."

Lopez Rivera also spoke out about the massive cuts targeting the island's main public post-secondary education institution, the University of Puerto Rico, which has seen funding slashed as part of a harsh austerity plan to tackle the Puerto Rico's crippling debt, sparking widespread protests.

"The University of Puerto Rico has to exist, it has to continue to get better. To students, they need to fight," Lopez said. "We will never resign and will always push forward. We can. We are a beautiful people and I think we can come together."

In early February, Lopez Rivera was transferred from the Terre Haute penitentiary in Indiana, where the leading activist spent about two-thirds of his more than 30-year prison term, to his daughter's home in Puerto Rico.

His electronic bracelet was removed one day before his official release. Various artists are expected to perform at a party organized to celebrate his freedom on the island.

The independence leader will finally meet with his old comrades and plans to travel to Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, among other countries, in order to thank those who supported his release, said his lawyer to the media.

Lopez Rivera was born in Puerto Rico in 1943 and later moved to the United States. After being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War and returning to Chicago, Lopez Rivera joined the struggle for Puerto Rican rights. In 1976, he joined the fight for Puerto Rican independence from U.S. colonial rule as a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, also known as FALN.

He was arrested in 1981 and charged with “seditious conspiracy” for his role in a variety of FALN activities.

During his trial, Lopez Rivera and other FALN activists told the court their actions were part of an anti-colonial war against the U.S., declaring themselves prisoners of war and requesting that their cases be handed over to an international court. That request was denied, and Lopez Rivera was eventually sentenced to 55 years in prison — a sentence almost 20 times longer than those handed down for similar offenses.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton offered Lopez Rivera a pardon in 1999, but the independence activist rejected it in an act of solidarity with other Puerto Rican activists who had not been offered clemency and because he refused to publicly renounce the right of colonized peoples to resist through armed struggle.

Who Is Oscar Lopez Rivera?…

teleSUR, May 17, 2017

After a decades-long international campaign for his freedom, Oscar Lopez Rivera a Puerto Rican independence leader is finally free.

President Barack Obama announced the commutation of Lopez Rivera's sentence in January, days before he left office.

The announcement is just the latest development in Lopez Rivera’s remarkable life, one dedicated to struggles for freedom, justice, and political integrity.

Born in Puerto Rico in 1943, Lopez Rivera moved with his family to the U.S. in 1952, just two years after Puerto Rican independence activists tried to assassinate President Truman in New York, and one year ahead of the largest ever wave of migration to the U.S. which saw almost 70,000 Puerto Ricans arrive on the mainland.

At age 14, Oscar Lopez moved to join his sister in Humboldt Park, Chicago, one of the city's largest Puerto Rican communities, and at age 18, like many working class Latino men, he was drafted into the U.S. military to fight in Vietnam.

After several tours, during which he was awarded the Bronze Star for “heroic service,” he returned to Chicago in 1967 where he became a widely respected community activist, heavily involved in creating one of the first Latino alternative schools in the country.

In 1972 he was one of the founders of La Escuelita Puertoriiqueña, which started in the basement of a Chicago church and was later renamed the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School, after the founder of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party who was himself jailed by the U.S. for his independence activism.

Along with his brother Jose Lopez, he founded the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and waged groundbreaking anti-discrimination fights against local utility services. As an organizer with ASPIRA, which remains the only national Latino organization “dedicated exclusively to developing the educational and leadership capacity of Hispanic youth,” he played a prominent role in promoting bilingual education throughout the Chicago public school system and pushed universities to actively recruit both Latino students and faculty.

Through his activism, he became increasingly radicalized, going on to help start a transition house for former prisoners dealing with addictions issues and an education program for Latino inmates that the Statesville prison.

By the mid-1970’s Lopez Rivera had joined the Armed Forces of National Liberation, whose goal was to establish an independent socialist state in Puerto Rico. The FALN, founded in the late 1960’s after years of U.S. government attacks on Puerto Rican independence activists, declared that only through “clandestine armed struggles” could Puerto Rico free itself from its “colonial condition.”

After years of living underground, Lopez Rivera was arrested in 1981 and charged with “seditious conspiracy” for his role in a variety of FALN activities, including bombings and armed robberies. During his trial Lopez Rivera and other FALN activists told the court their actions were part of an anti-colonial war against the U.S., declaring themselves prisoners of war and requesting that their cases be handed over to an international court.

Once that request was turned down Rivera largely ignored the proceedings, arguing that his actions were legal under the Geneva Conventions which recognized the right to armed struggle against colonial occupation. He was eventually sentenced to 55 years in prison, a sentence almost 20 times longer than those handed down for similar offenses.

However neither that sentence nor decades of solitary confinement, in conditions which both Amnesty International and several U.S. federal courts ruled as “cruel and unusual,” dampened Lopez Rivera’s commitment to solidarity and resistance.

While in prison he refused to work for UNICOR, the state-run prison labor corporation, citing their production of military component parts. He later organized a successful campaign to end an institutionalized harassment campaign by prison guards. In 1988 he was sentenced to another 15 years in prison for allegedly attempting to escape.

Perhaps his most famous act of solidarity came in 1999 when he was offered a clemency deal by President Bill Clinton as long as he publicly renounced armed struggle. He rejected the promise of early release on the grounds that it was not being offered to other Puerto Rican independence activists, and because he refused to renounce the right of colonized peoples to armed resistance.

This enduring political integrity, and his unfailing commitment to the principles of solidarity and the independence of Puerto Rico inspired the decades-long campaign for his freedom, which saw 10 Nobel Peace Prize winners, U.S. politicians such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Luis Gutierrez, and artists such as Residente and Lin-Manuel Miranda, all calling for his release.

In an interview just weeks before the official commutation of his sentence Lopez Rivera remained defiant and unfailing in his commitment to the liberation of Puerto Rico, saying "whatever time I have left in this world I dedicate it to work and fight to help solve the biggest problem we face: the colonial status of Puerto Rico."

Oscar Lopez Rivera’s Puerto Rico Independence Fight Lives On…

teleSUR, ay 17, 2017

After spending over 36 years behind bars, Puerto Rican independence hero Oscar Lopez Rivera is finally free and the Puerto Rican people can celebrate a historic victory.

Lopez Rivera, now 74 years old, was released in Puerto Rico Wednesday, officially making him the longest-held political prisoner in the U.S. from Latin America.

Lopez Rivera was arrested in 1981 by the FBI and charged with “seditious conspiracy," for being a militant independence fighter.

During his trial, Lopez Rivera and other members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation told the court their actions were part of an anti-colonial war against the U.S., declaring themselves prisoners of war and requesting that their cases be handed over to an international court.

The U.S. did not recognize Lopez's demand and sentenced him to 55 years in prison. After an alleged attempt to escape, the sentence was increased to 70 years in prison, 12 of which he spent in solitary confinement.

Today, Puerto Rico is still plagued by many of the U.S.-imposed problems that Lopez Rivera fought against before he was jailed, namely economic and political hegemony. Most notably, forced payment of the US$73 billion debt “owed” to Wall Street creditors, which is being enforced through Washington-led austerity.

The results are devastating.

University budgets are being slashed. Hospitals are shutting down. Food prices are going up. Transportation prices are skyrocketing.

The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, the institution carrying out these acts of austerity, has become the modern day symbol of U.S. colonization on the Caribbean island. It was set up last year through the contentious PROMESA law that gained bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress as a plan to “save” Puerto Rico from its imposed debt crisis.

But as the old saying goes, where there is oppression, there is resistance.

Revolutionary groups like the Boricua Popular Army, better known as Los Macheteros, are mobilizing Puerto Ricans against voting in favor of statehood in an upcoming referendum on its territorial status. The referendum, to be held on June 11, will ask voters for the option of statehood or for independence/free association. If the majority of people vote for independence/free association, a second referendum will take place in October to choose the country’s political status.

Dozens of other progressive anti-colonial groups are backing the Macheteros’ call for mass resistance to statehood.

Puerto Ricans are also mobilizing on the streets against U.S.-imposed oppression.

Since April 6, students from the Rio Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico have held a campus-wide strike in repudiation of proposed education budget cuts amounting to US$450 million by 2021.

In addition to opposing the multi-million dollar education cut proposed by the financial board, students are also demanding an audit of the US$73 billion debt owed to wealthy vulture funds.

Thousands of Puerto Rican workers, students and others took to the streets in a national strike in the early hours of International Workers’ Day. The mass mobilization was held to protest against the harsh austerity measures pummeling the island and the controversial federal control board managing its economy.

Despite the fact that many of the problems Lopez Rivera fought against throughout his youth are still affecting Puerto Rico, the mass organizations that succeeded him and were largely inspired by him are carrying out his struggle today.

Today’s fight against U.S.-imposed austerity in Puerto Rico is an evolved form of Lopez Rivera’s fight alongside the FALN against U.S. imperialism in the 1970s. And now that the Puerto Rican independence hero will finally be able to roam his homeland freely, both generations of the revolutionary movement can come together as one, learning and growing from one another.