Oscar López Rivera
Oscar López Rivera (born January 6, 1943) is a Puerto Rican activist and militant who was one of the leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN), a clandestine paramilitary organization devoted to Puerto Rican independence. A fugitive since 1976 and indicted in 1977 and 1979, López Rivera was arrested on May 29, 1981 and tried by the United States government for seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms, and conspiracy to transport explosives with intent to destroy government property. López Rivera admitted committing every act with which he was charged, but declared himself a political prisoner and refused to take part in most of the trial proceedings. He maintained that according to international law he was an anticolonial combatant and could not be prosecuted by the United States government. On August 11, 1981, López Rivera was convicted and sentenced to 55 years in federal prison. On February 26, 1988 he was sentenced to an additional 15 years in prison for conspiring to escape from the Leavenworth federal prison.
|Oscar López Rivera|
|Native name||Oscar López Rivera|
January 6, 1943 |
San Sebastián, Puerto Rico
|Residence||San Sebastián, Puerto Rico|
|Known for||Longest-incarcerated FALN member|
|Home town||San Sebastián, Puerto Rico|
|Criminal charge||Seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and ammunition to aid in the commission of a felony|
|Criminal penalty||Prison for 55 years; extended 15 years for later conspiracy to escape|
|Criminal status||Sentence commuted by President Obama, sentence ended in May 2017.|
|Awards||Bronze Star Medal|
The imprisonment of López Rivera was opposed or supported by individuals and groups representing political, religious, and other constituencies. Some called him a terrorist, but others said he was a political prisoner. Several U.S. Congressmen supported López Rivera's release from prison.
U.S. President Bill Clinton offered López Rivera and 13 other convicted FALN members clemency in 1999, on condition they renounce violence, but López Rivera rejected it. On January 17, 2017, President Barack Obama commuted López Rivera's sentence and he was released from prison on May 17, 2017, after 35 years in prison. López Rivera had been incarcerated longer than any other member of the FALN. On February 9, 2017, he was moved from an Indiana prison to Puerto Rico, where he completed the last three months of his sentence under house arrest before being released on May 17, 2017.
Early years and personal lifeEdit
Oscar López Rivera was born in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, on January 6, 1943. His family moved to Chicago when he was nine years old. At the age of 14, he followed them to Chicago. At age 18 he was drafted into the army and served in the Vietnam War and awarded the Bronze Star. When he returned to Illinois in 1967, he became a community activist, advocating for housing for the Puerto Rican community, bilingual education and Latino recruitment in the university system. In the late 1970s he began to advocate for Puerto Rican independence. López Rivera was one of the founders of La Escuelita Puertorriqueña, now known as the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School and the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center. He was a community organizer for the Northwest Community Organization (NCO), ASSPA, ASPIRA and the 1st Congregational Church of Chicago. He helped to found FREE, a half-way house for convicted drug addicts, and ALAS, an educational program for Latino prisoners at Stateville Prison in Illinois.
López Rivera joined the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN), a Marxist-Leninist organization which in the 1970s fought to make Puerto Rico an independent communist nation. The FALN was involved in more than 100 bombings in New York, Chicago and other cities, including the 1975 bombing at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan that killed four people. The FALN was one of the targets of the first terrorism task force in the United States; the US Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), established in April 1980, had as one of its goals to pursue threats from the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN).
López Rivera was first linked to the criminal conspiracy carried out by the FALN in 1976. That year, a burglar was arrested in Chicago attempting to peddle stolen explosives. The burglar led the Chicago police to an apartment, nearly devoid of furniture, but in which there were boxes containing explosives and bomb-making paraphernalia, weapons, clothing, wigs, and photographs of Chicago buildings, maps of the city, and several FALN documents, including a manual for guerrilla warfare detailing deceptive practices and rules of clandestine living titled Posición Política.[a] This bomb factory was linked to the owner of the apartment, Carlos Torres, López Rivera, and their respective wives, Marie Haydée Beltrán Torres and Ida Luz Rodríguez. All four became fugitives after this discovery. The four were also linked to the National Commission on Hispanic Affairs (NCHA) of the Protestant Episcopal Church, a charitable organization based in New York City that was meant to fund projects to assist Hispanic communities throughout the United States. In 1977, 11 FALN members, including Luz Rodriguez and Torres Beltrán, were arrested trying to rob an armored truck in Evanston, Illinois. López Rivera was apprehended a few years later when, according to police, he ran a stop sign in a Chicago suburb and provided a false Oregon driver's license.
At the time of their arrest, López Rivera and the others declared themselves combatants in an anti-colonial war against the United States to gain Puerto Rico's independence from the U.S.. They invoked prisoner of war status. They stated that U.S. courts did not have jurisdiction to treat them as criminals, and they petitioned for their cases to be handed over to an international court that would determine their status. The U.S. Government did not recognize their request.
López Rivera was tried in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois in 1980–81. The charges included armed robbery and for being a recruiter and bomb-making trainer in the FALN. López Rivera admitted committing every act with which he was charged, but declared himself a political prisoner and refused to take part in most of the trial proceedings. In August 1981, Alfredo Méndez, one of those arrested in Evanston who had become an informant, testified that López Rivera taught him how to make bomb detonation devices and gun silencers. He also testified that the first bombing in which Méndez was to have taken part planned to target the hotel that housed the offices for the Democratic Party. Méndez stated that other bombings were scheduled to occur simultaneously in New York City, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. Speaking on his own behalf during closing arguments, López Rivera stated, "Puerto Rico will be a free and socialist country" and denounced Méndez as a traitor. López Rivera was convicted of "seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and ammunition to aid in the commission of a felony, and interstate transportation of stolen vehicles".
The pre-sentencing report stated that López Rivera had been:
personally involved in bombing and incendiary attacks across the country for at least five years prior to Méndez's [sic] involvement and knowledge, has been a prime recruiter for members of the underground terrorist group, and has been a key trainer in bombing, sabotage and other techniques of guerilla warfare. He has set up a series of safehouses and bomb factories across the country, the searches of which have uncovered literally hundreds of pounds of dynamite and other forms of high explosive, blasting caps, timing devices, huge caches of weapons and stockpiles of ammunition, silencers, sawed-off shotguns, disguises, stolen and altered identity documents, and the proceeds of the armed robberies of locations such as a National Guard Armory, Chicago's Carter-Mondale Re-Election headquarters, radio and communications companies, as well as a variety of stolen vehicles.
In 1995, in interviews after his conviction, López Rivera neither confirmed nor denied his affiliation with the FALN and disowned any personal involvement in the bombing deaths linked to the FALN. Without advocating violence, he asserted his belief in the legitimacy of political violence: "By international law, a colonized people has the right to fight against colonialism by any means necessary, including the use of force."
1988 conspiracy conviction for escape plotEdit
On August 20, 1986, a federal grand jury indicted López Rivera and several others for planning to engineer his escape, and that of another inmate, from Leavenworth. The government described plans to use hand grenades, plastic explosives, blasting caps, and a helicopter.[b] The government also claimed it knew of a failed 1983 escape plot, but had not arrested the conspirators in order to maintain surveillance of their activities.
The jury deliberated for four days and returned guilty verdicts against all four defendants on December 31, 1987. López Rivera was convicted on five of the eight counts on which he had been charged. His attorney continued to charge the government with devising the conspiracy. She said: "The way this case was done was down and dirty. The Government, through their informants, agents provocateur and undercover FBI agents spent millions trying to create a conspiracy to get these defendants."[c]
On February 27, 1988, U.S. District Judge William Hart sentenced López Rivera to fifteen years in prison. He said: "Those who take up the sword die by the sword." In December, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the defendants' appeal, which contended that the government had masterminded the conspiracy.
For many years, numerous national and international organizations criticized López Rivera' incarceration categorizing it as political imprisonment. Luis Nieves Falcón, a social science professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, has said that López Rivera is "among the longest held political prisoners in the history of Puerto Rico and in the world."
After spending twelve years in maximum security prisons in Marion, Illinois, and Florence, Colorado, López Rivera was transferred to the general prison population at the federal correctional facility in Terre Haute, Indiana.
His supporters have accused the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons of isolating López Rivera on the basis of his political beliefs. For twelve of his 32 years in prison, López Rivera has been held in solitary confinement in maximum security prisons.
In 2006, a special committee of the United Nations called for the release from United States prisons of all convicted for actions related to Puerto Rican independence who had served more than 25 years, whom it termed "political prisoners".
Push for clemencyEdit
Conditional clemency offer (1999)Edit
On August 11, 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton offered clemency to López Rivera and 15 other convicted FALN members, subject to the condition of "renouncing the use or threatened use of violence for any purpose" in writing. Some had fines reduced to the amounts they already paid and others had their sentences reduced to time already served. Two had their sentences reduced but would still have time to serve, including López-Rivera, whose seventy-year sentence would be reduced to about 44 and a half years, allowing him to leave prison in December 2025. None of those offered clemency were directly involved in FALN bombings that resulted in deaths and injuries. A White House spokesman said: "The President feels they deserved to serve serious sentences for these crimes, but not sentences that were far out of proportion to the nature of the crimes they were convicted for."[e] President Jimmy Carter had pardoned other Puerto Rican Nationalists on three occasions, including four who wounded members of Congress in an attack on the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954 and one who plotted to assassinate Harry Truman in 1950. Fourteen of the sixteen accepted Clinton's conditions. Of those, some were no longer in prison, eleven were released on September 10, and one had five more years to serve in prison.
Clinton had been urged to grant clemency by Coretta Scott King; several religious leaders, including retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Cardinal John J. O'Connor of the Archdiocese of New York, the Right Rev. Paul Moore Jr., the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York; and by such New York Democrats as Representatives Jose E. Serrano, Charles B. Rangel, Nydia M. Velazquez and Eliot L. Engel. In September, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez said that the charge of seditious conspiracy against the FALN was "a political charge", and Congressman John J. LaFalce said that it misrepresented López Rivera's "desire to have independence for Puerto Rico from the United States".
Gloria Quinones, an activist who had called for the release of Puerto Rican nationalists from prison, expressed disappointment with the terms: "This is an olive branch that the President has extended in the process of reconciliation between the United States and Puerto Rico, but it's a very scrawny one." She particularly objected to the requirement that the prisoners not associate with each other upon release.[f] On September 21, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Carlos Romero Barceló supported Clinton's offer and denounced López Rivera for refusing to renounce violence. He told a committee evaluating the pardons that the FALN had operated "by means of violence, threats and terror" and that all FALN members endorsed violence.
The clemency offer was opposed by bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, which passed a Joint Resolution condemning Clinton's action in mid-September. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives on a vote of 311–41) and U.S. Senate by a vote of 95–2. The Joint Resolution repeatedly labeled the 16 Clinton had offered conditional clemency as "terrorists".[g] Those opposed to the clemency offer pointed to the several charges on which Oscar López had been convicted, including armed robbery, recruiting for the FALN, and training others to make bombs and silencers.
Former New York City police officer Richard Pascarella, who was blinded and lost five fingers on his right hand in an FALN bombing, also opposed clemency for FALN members, stating: "They will reorganize. They will again voice their ideology on the American public with a bomb and with a gun." Some Republicans said it showed President Clinton was trying to build support in New York's Puerto Rican community for his wife's campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2000. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said: "All of a sudden this president grants clemency, and does it on conditions. And he's a president who wants to make a stand against terrorism, so it raises very legitimate questions."
López Rivera rejected the offer because one of its conditions was that he renounce the use of terrorism. Others provided other explanations. His sister, Zenaida López, said he refused the offer because on parole, he would be in "prison outside prison." Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said that López Rivera's "primary reason" was the fact that similar clemency had not been offered to Carlos Torres.[h]
Opposition to clemencyEdit
Obama's decision to commute López Rivera's sentence was condemned by an editorial in the New Hampshire Union Leader, and by Charles Krauthammer and Charles Lane. On January 20, 2017, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Joe Connor, the son of one of the victims of the Fraunces Tavern bombing, condemning Obama's decision to commute López Rivera's sentence.
Support for clemencyEdit
His release has been demanded by 10 Nobel Peace Prize winners, Coretta Scott King, President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Senator Bernie Sanders as well as an international coalition of human rights, and religious, labor, and business leaders including the United Council of Churches of Christ, United Methodist Church, Baptist Peace Fellowship, Episcopal Church of Puerto Rico, and the Catholic Archbishop of San Juan.
- In 2010, the Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, officially requested López Rivera's release.
- Joseph F. Connor, whose father died in the 1975 bombing at Fraunces Tavern, testified at a parole hearing for López Rivera. He opposed parole because he holds López Rivera partly responsible for his father's death. Lopez' attorney said "It was very impactful, moving testimony from people who had terrible losses, but it had nothing to do with Mr. Lopez."
- On June 7, Puerto Rican activist Tito Kayak started a two-leg lone high seas voyage from Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Washington, D.C., to protest the U.S. incarceration of Oscar López Rivera. Kayak described him as a political prisoner.
- In 2013, several high-profile manifestations took place in Puerto Rico on behalf of Oscar López Rivera. These were attended by the highest levels of Puerto Rican government, politicians from all political parties, prominent Puerto Rican artists, singers, actors, Major League baseball players, and hundreds of other people.
- Several U.S. congressmen, as well as the Governor of Puerto Rico, also supported his release, asking the President of the United States for it.
- On May 29, 2013, on the 32nd anniversary of López Rivera's continuous incarceration, high-ranking officials, former prison personnel, singers, actors, Major League baseball players, and hundreds of other volunteers participated in mock-up prison cell events throughout Puerto Rico calling for the release of López Rivera from the American prison system. In addition, several U.S. Congressmen supported his release, with a few contacting President Obama asking for his release.
- Numerous volunteers participated in a 24-hour demonstration where they remained confined to 6 ft x 9 ft mock-up prison cells intended to represent López Rivera's current cell size in Terre Haute, Indiana. The demonstrations took place on May 29, 2013, at the central squares of Puerto Rico's four largest cities, San Juan, Ponce, Mayagüez, and Arecibo. The volunteers included politicians María de Lourdes Santiago, a Puerto Rican senator, musician Tito Auger, and actors Ángela Meyer. Others entering the mock-up cells were pro-Statehood party Ponce mayor María Meléndez, writer Mayra Montero, San Juan pro-Commonwealth party mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, former Puerto Rico governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, and former Major Leagues baseball player Carlos Delgado. On that same day hundreds of activists, including pop star Ricky Martin, asked for his release from prison. The governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla joined the call for López Rivera's release in a letter to President Barack Obama. His release is also supported by members of Congress Luis Gutiérrez, José E. Serrano, and Nydia Velázquez.
- A group of young students and workers in Spain joined the international demand for the release of Oscar López Rivera. From February 28, 2014 until April 1, 2014 the Comite 33 días por la excarcelación de Oscar promoted López Rivera's cause amongst Spaniards. In addition, they collected signatures to ask U.S. President Barack H. Obama to grant him a presidential pardon.
|A half-hour radio news segment on Oscar López Rivera, conducted by NYC radio host Howard Jordan on WBAI 99.5 FM (on June 6, 2014) can be listened to here.|
- In March 2014 the Mexican pop singer Cristian Castro joined the international demand for López Rivera's release.
- In early June 2014 the Speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, officially supported the release of Oscar López Rivera.
- On June 6, 2014 in New York City, radio station WBAI 99.5 FM conducted a half-hour news and interview segment on Oscar López Rivera. The radio segment was conducted by Howard Jordan, the host of the show.
- On June 7, 2014, Miguel Cotto and José Pedraza called for the release of Oscar López Rivera, lending their prestige as champion fighters hailing from Puerto Rico. Miguel Cotto is the middleweight champion of the world and the first Puerto Rican to be the world boxing champion in four different weight classes. The two fighters appeared with “Free Oscar López Rivera” shirts in the ring at Madison Square Garden, and Pedraza previously wore the shirt in a fight in Puerto Rico.
- On June 8, 2014, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade paid tribute to Oscar López Rivera. On that day, a contingent in support of his release marched in the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. A week earlier, the June March 1 in Bronx, NYC was also dedicated to Oscar López Rivera.
- On January 4, 2015, in response to US requests to free the Venezuelan leader Leopoldo López, the president Nicolas Maduro had offered Washington to exchange him "man to man" by López Rivera. The White House rejected the proposal of the Venezuelan government the following day.
- On May 16, 2016 Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted, "Oscar Lopez Rivera has served 34 years in prison for his commitment to Puerto Rico's independence. I say to President Obama: let him out."
Commutation of sentenceEdit
On January 17, 2017, President Obama commuted López Rivera's sentence. His release was scheduled for May 17. On February 9, 2017, he was released from the Terre Haute prison and moved to Puerto Rico to serve the last three months of his sentence under house arrest. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, one of the Puerto Rico politicians accompanying Lopez Rivera to Puerto Rico, said that she plans to give Lopez Rivera a job in her administration. According to US Congressman Luis Gutierrez, the release to Puerto Rico came as a surprise to many, as "most prisoners go to halfway houses, [but] he got to go home to be with his daughter". López Rivera is currently living with his daughter at their home in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- Oscar López Rivera, Entre la Tortura y la Resistencia, edited by Luis Nieves Falcón, 2011, a collection of letters
- A few excerpts and commentary on Posición Política are available online.
- Claude Daniels Marks and Donna Jean Willmott, two of the FBI's most wanted fugitives of the 1980s, voluntarily surrendered to police in Pittsburgh in 1994 after their attorneys negotiated a plea bargain agreement in return for their pleading guilty to participation in the conspiracy to free Lopez Rivera. In 1985, they had purchased explosives, which proved to be fake, from an undercover FBI agent and had gone into hiding after discovering a listening device in their car.
- The other defendants were Grailing Brown, a Leavenworth inmate who had been convicted of murder; Dora Garcia, Lopez's former sister-in-law; and Jaime Delgado. Others were indicted but not apprehended.
- The figures are based on Torres and Velazquez's calculations of a prison term averaging 5.4 years received by those convicted of murder compared to terms averaging 65.4 years given FALN members.
- U.S. Government statistics showed the prisoners' sentences were "about six times longer" than sentences for murder offenses by the American population at large.[d]
- The requirement that the released prisoners not associate with one another was a routine parole board requirement, not a condition set by President Clinton.
- The Joint Resolution included these phrases: "militant terrorist organization", "the 16 terrorists", "these terrorists", "these 16 terrorists", "offer of clemency to the FALN terrorists".
- Torres was released from prison in July 2010.
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- Brooklyn Group Rallies for Release of Puerto Rican Political Prisoner. Jeanine Ramírez. NY1 Warner Cable News. February 25, 2014.
- Tito Auger ameniza manifestación a favor de Oscar López en Caguas. Primera Hora. May 29, 2013. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
- Governor Dismisses Serious Crimes Done in the Name of Independence. Puerto Rico Report. July 5, 2013. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
- "Melissa Mark-Viverito turns out to support jailed Puerto Rican nationalist". NY Daily News. June 5, 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
- "Edited06-06-2014JJournalJoseLopez-Oscar Lopez Brother". Mediafire.com. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
- McDevitt, John. "Champion boxers call for release of Puerto Rican political prisoner". Pslweb.org. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
- , Presidente Maduro propone intercambio
- "Bernie Sanders on Twitter".
- "Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter".
- "Puerto Ricans Cheer Commutation for Nationalist Oscar Lopez". New York Times. Associated Press. January 17, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
- "Oscar López Rivera ya está en su tierra". Primerahora.com (in Spanish). February 9, 2017. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
- "Puerto Rico Nationalist Unexpectedly Returns After Term Cut". New York Times. Associated Press. February 9, 2017. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
- "Carmen Yulín defiende que Oscar López trabaje en San Juan" (video). El Nuevo Dia (in Spanish). Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. January 18, 2017. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
- Coto, Danica (9 February 2017). "Puerto Rico Nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera Unexpectedly Returns to Serve Term Cut by Obama". NBC Channel 6, Miami. Retrieved 16 February 2017.
- "Outrage, elation over Oscar Lopez Rivera's release and parade honor". Fox 5. 17 May 2017.
- "Puerto Rican nationalist Lopez Rivera released". Al Jazeera. 17 May 2017.
- Book Review: Puerto Rican Independentista Oscar López Rivera’s 32 Years of Resistance to Torture. Written by Hans Bennett.
- "Figuras públicas continúan encarcelándose por Oscar López Rivera" (in Spanish). El Nuevo Dia. May 29, 2013. – Contains the partial, list of prominent figures who were "jailed" for López Rivera.
- United States Justice Department, 2011 parole hearing report for Oscar López Rivera