Actions in Puerto Rico, Cuba,
US demand ‘Free Oscar López’
Puerto Rican political prisoner in US jails
for 32 years
BY SETH GALINSKY
Growing support for freedom for Puerto Rican independence fighter Oscar López Rivera was shown by protest actions in Puerto Rico, the United States and Cuba May 29, the anniversary of his arrest and imprisonment 32 years ago. In five cities in Puerto Rico hundreds of people took turns staying in mock prison cells to draw attention to the frame-up and attempts by the U.S. government to break López’s spirit.
“The fact we are living through an economic crisis is helping to wake people up,” said Rafael Cancel Miranda, in a recent phone interview. Cancel Miranda spent 28 years in U.S. prisons for his activities in favor of independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony. “Even I was surprised at how many people wanted to identify themselves with Oscar. It’s like they were freeing themselves at the same time.”
López, now 70 years old, was arrested May 28, 1981, and accused of being a member of the Armed Forces for Puerto Rican Liberation (FALN). He was sentenced to 55 years in prison on trumped-up charges of “seditious conspiracy,” despite no evidence he had participated in any violent acts. Fifteen more years were added to his sentence in 1988 after he was framed up on charges of attempting to escape. For the first 12 years of incarceration, he was kept in solitary confinement and is currently being held at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.
Born in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, López grew up in the U.S. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam as an infantryman in 1965. When he returned to Chicago, he helped form the Committee for the Freedom of the Five Puerto Rican nationalist prisoners, who had been jailed in 1953 and 1954. He was also active in fights for bilingual education and against racist discrimination.
López was offered parole in 1999 by President William Clinton, along with 13 other Puerto Rican political prisoners held in the U.S. He refused because two prisoners, Carlos Alberto Torres and Haydée Beltrán, were not included. If López had accepted, he would have been released in 2009.
In July 2010, after Torres was released, López applied for parole. Following a January 2011 hearing, the parole commission denied the request and ruled that López could not reapply until 2026.
Participation in the mock jail cells in Puerto Rico exceeded all expectations, Eduardo Villanueva Muñoz, said in a phone interview. He is a spokesperson for the Human Rights Committee, which initiated the mock cells in five cities: San Juan, Ponce, Arecibo, San Sebastian and Mayagüez.
“At first we thought one person would spend one hour in each cell. Then, as participation grew, we went to one every 30 minutes, then every 15 minutes,” Villanueva said. “Finally we had to put two people in each cell at a time.” More than 1,000 spent time in the cells and thousands more came to show their support.
“We also have the support of the different unions and churches,” he said. “The imprisonment of Oscar is an injustice and an abuse.”
Even the mayors of Ponce and San Juan and other leaders of the two main bourgeois parties on the island — the Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party, both of which oppose independence — took stints in the cells.
On May 30 the Puerto Rican Senate passed a resolution calling on President Barack Obama to free López.
Oscar and the Cuban Five
The May 29 event in Havana was sponsored by the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). Among those attending the meeting were René González, one of the Cuban Five, recently returned to Cuba after 13 years imprisoned in the U.S.; Rosa Aurora Freijanes, the wife of Fernando González, one of the four members of the Cuban Five still in prison; and ICAP President Kenia Serrano.
Until recently Fernando González was also imprisoned in Terre Haute and was cellmates with López. Freijanes said at the meeting that López’s experience facing the hardest conditions in U.S. prisons earned the respect of her husband.
“Washington raised up its hate, frustration and resentment against [Oscar] and against Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René in the face of the rebelliousness of two fraternal peoples who have never renounced their independence,” Ricardo Alarcón, member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba, told the meeting. “Oscar López should be freed immediately and without conditions.”
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