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AMERICA COULD BE BETTER IF IT TRIED TO BE:
Oscar Lopez Rivera: Imprisoned for Supporting Puerto Rican Independence
Saturday, 27 November 2010
Sentences given Puerto Rican political prisoners are/were excessive and punitive. On average, men got 70.8 years, women 72.8, 19 times longer than average in the year they were sentenced, real criminals faring much better.
After the 1898 Spanish-American War, the US took over the Philippines, Guam, Samoa, Hawaii, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Canal Zone, assorted other territories, and Puerto Rico. On September 29, its Governor-General, Manuel Macias y Casado (a Spanish general), ceded control to Washington, its current status today as a colony.
In 1966, then University of Puerto Rico economics associate, Dr. Antonio J. Gonzales said:
For over 112 years, America's had total control, Puerto Ricans virtually none, forced to "accept the dispositions of laws imposed" by a colonial power. In its relationship with America, Puerto Rico is called "Estado Libre Asociado" (Free Associated State or Commonwealth). Under international law, it's a colony, seeking independence. Therein lies the roots of its struggle, Oscar Lopez Rivera imprisoned for supporting it.
A collective 1981 statement by Puerto Rican Independentistas, convicted of "seditious conspiracy," said the following:
The struggle continues, Rivera one of its victims. The web site prolibertadweb.com calls him and others like him:
Each year for decades, the UN Decolonization Committee approved a draft resolution for Puerto Rican independence, the latest one on June 21:
Background on Rivera
Born in 1943 in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, he moved to America at age 12, then two years later to Chicago to live with his sister. A decorated Vietnam veteran, he returned home to his Puerto Rican community, plagued by unemployment, drugs, police brutality, and dire levels of healthcare, education, and other essential social services - issues he was determined to address.
He helped create the Puerto Rican High School and Cultural Center. He co-founded the Rafael Cancel Miranda High School (now called Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School). He worked for public school bilingual education, for universities to admit more Latino students and hire Latino faculty and staff, and for Chicago area corporations, like Illinois Bell, People's Gas and Commonwealth Edison, to end discriminatory hiring.
He became an organizer for the Northwest Community Organization (NCO), ASSPA, ASPIRA, and Chicago's First Congregational Church. He also helped found FREE, a half-way house for convicted drug addicts, and ASAS, an educational program for Latino prisoners at Illinois' Stateville Prison.
He also worked for Puerto Rican independence. In 1974, he helped organize the committee to "Free the Five" (Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irwin Flores, Oscar Collazao, Lolita Lebron, and Andres Figueroa Cordero). In 1975, he was forced underground with other comrades after the Justice Department named him an FALN leader (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional - Armed Forces of National Liberation).
On May 10, 2001, FBI Director Louis Freeh described the organization as follows to the Senate Committees on Appropriations, Armed Services, and Select Committee on Intelligence, under the heading: "Left-wing and Puerto Rican extremist groups," saying:
Rivera's Arrest and Imprisonment
On May 29, 1981, he was arrested, the FBI calling him one of America's most feared fugitives. Accused of being an FALN leader, he neither confirmed or denied it, affirming only his nonviolent activism. At trial, he refused to participate, declaring himself a "prisoner of war."
In 1981, he was convicted of armed robbery, miscellaneous charges, and seditious conspiracy - sedition pertaining to actions to incite insurrection or rebellion; conspiracy by working with others to achieve it.
Initially sentenced to 55 years, 15 more were added in 1988, based on spurious charges of participating in a conspiracy to escape, that sentence to begin when the original one ends.
In 1999, the Clinton administration offered him and 11 other Puerto Rican nationalists clemency. He declined, saying it required him to serve 10 more years with good conduct. Had he accepted, he'd have been free a year ago.
His sister, Zenaida Lopez, said he refused because on parole, he'd be in "prison outside prison." Incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Terre Haute, IN, July 27, 2027 is his scheduled release date unless paroled and accepts or gets unconditional clemency sooner.
Punitive Sentencing and Treatment
The "ProLIBERTAD campaign for the freedom of Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners of war" called sentences given "Puerto Rican patriots excessive and punitive." On average, men got 70.8 years, women 72.8, 19 times longer than average in the year they were sentenced, real criminals faring much better.
For example, from 1966 - 1985, average murder sentences were 22.7 years; rape, 12.5 years, and arms violations 12. Only 12.8% of all federal prisoners got over 20 years. Most often, only repeat offenders get longer sentences. No Puerto Rican "patriot" had a prior record at time of arrest.
Worse still, they've been harshly treated in prison, in violation of UN Minimum Uniform Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners (UNSMRTR), Rule A1 6(1). They've been held far from families despite facilities closer to home. Some have been sexually assaulted, Alejandrina Torres attacked in three different prisons, in one case by prison guards and a male lieutenant. She was then held in solitary confinement for complaining.
They've been denied adequate medical care. Some have been held in underground confinement, Rivera, in 1993, describing his treatment at Marion, IL maximum security as follows:
In 1987, Amnesty International (AI) condemned Marion conditions, saying:
In 1988, AI called conditions in Lexington, KY's Maximum Security Unit for women "deliberately and gratuitously oppressive."
The same holds for all federal and state maximum security facilities and many others, prisoners routinely abused, especially political ones. Earlier articles explained, accessed through the following links:
From 1986 - 1998, Rivera was held in punitive maximum security confinement, and remained in max facilities until 2008. Only then was he transferred to a medium security prison on condition he report every two hours to corrections staff, an unheard of stipulation. Currently at FCI Terre Haute, his mailing address is:
Oscar Lopez Rivera
A Final Comment
In early January 2011, likely the first week, Rivera will appear before the US Parole Commission after nearly 30 years in prison. Supporters are urged to download, print and sign the attached letter and mail it to the following address:
Chairman Isaac Fulwood, Jr.
In addition, the National Boricua Human Rights Network urges signers to email firstname.lastname@example.org so they can keep track of supportive letters.
Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on November 27, 2010.