NEW YORK — More than 1,000 people marched in Harlem May 30 to demand freedom for Puerto Rican independence fighter Oscar López, who has been imprisoned in the United States for 34 years, 12 of them in solitary confinement. The day before, hundreds marched in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (See article on page 9.)
Participants came from all over the East Coast and further, including Chicago; Boston; Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia; Cleveland; Detroit; and Nashville, Tennessee. There were contingents from several church groups, as well as Service Employees International Union Local 1199 and SEIU 32BJ. Nearly a dozen elected officials marched or spoke at the rally.
López, now 72, moved to Chicago from Puerto Rico when he was 14. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 and sent to Vietnam. After returning López joined the fight against racist discrimination in housing and employment, for bilingual education and against police brutality, and for independence for Puerto Rico.
He was arrested on May 29, 1981, accused of being a leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation of Puerto Rico, framed up on charges, including “seditious conspiracy,” and sentenced to 55 years in prison. He was never accused of any act of violence. Eleven fellow independence fighters were framed up the year before. While the last of the 11 was released in 2010, López has been denied parole and cannot apply again until 2026.
“It’s ridiculous that Oscar is in prison for so long for believing that Puerto Rico should be independent. They try to paint Oscar as a terrorist, but he should be painted as a hero,” said Melissa Santana, who came from Cleveland. “Puerto Rico in English means ‘rich port.’ There are tremendous resources but they are being taken by America.”
“Not everyone here today agrees with Oscar’s views on independence,” noted Raquelle Seda, a leader of the National Boricua Human Rights Network in Detroit. “But they think that the conditions that Oscar has been subjected to for 34 years are inhumane.”
Many passersby took leaflets — for most it was the first time they had heard about the case — and signed petitions asking President Barack Obama to pardon him. El Diario, a Spanish-language daily here, featured the march on its front page two days in a row. Many stores had posters in their windows.
Among those speaking at the rally after the march were Oscar López’s daughter Clarisa and his brother José; other former Puerto Rican political prisoners; U.S. Reps. Nydia Velázquez and José Serrano; and New York City Council Chair Melissa Mark-Viverito. The rally was chaired by Ana López, a professor at Hostos College in the Bronx.
A few days before the march, Oscar López, in an interview published in Claridad, a Puerto Rican weekly, said he has won solidarity from fellow prisoners and encouraged them to speak out against abusive prison conditions.
In response to a question about the opening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments, López said, “The support and solidarity of Cuba are very important for us. I believe this strengthens Cuba and if Cuba is strengthened we are also strengthened.”
“One of the more interesting things for me about the Cuban Revolution is how it developed its human resources,” he said. “We don’t need salvation. What we need is to have the opportunity to run Puerto Rico ourselves.”
Puerto Rico caravan wins support for Oscar López
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