By Mark Wachtler
May 1, 2015. New York. (ONN) He is the world’s longest-held political prisoner. He’s being held by the US government and has been since 1980. That’s 34 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Instead, he opened schools and community centers in his impoverished 1970’s Chicago neighborhood to combat the drugs and gangs he saw destroying his community. He forced the city’s public schools and the state’s prisons to offer classes in Spanish so immigrants could lift themselves out of poverty and dependence. He’s 73 years old and it’s time to set Oscar Lopez Rivera free.
Thousands march through the streets of San Juan in 2013 demanding the US release Oscar Lopez Rivera.
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Oscar Lopez Rivera
In 1943, Oscar Lopez Rivera moved to the US at the age of nine with his family. They settled in Chicago and when he turned 18, Rivera was drafted and sent to Vietnam where he earned the Bronze Star. When he returned from the war in 1967, he found his neighborhood overrun with drugs, gangs, violence and poverty. At that point, he became a community activist where he created education programs and helped open community centers and schools.
Rivera mounted a successful grassroots effort to force schools to hire Hispanic teachers so the Hispanic students had role models they could identify with and who understood their plight and their language. He also led campaigns to end discrimination against Latinos in hiring by the city and Chicago’s utility companies. Rivera helped open a half-way house for recently-released, drug-addicted prison inmates to help them turn their lives around. And he launched an education program for Spanish-speaking prisoners in Illinois’ prison system.
While Oscar Lopez Rivera was a devout peace activist, others in the Puerto Rican independence movement had turned to violence to end what they called the colonial occupation of their country. Throughout the 1970’s, groups like FALN carried out over 100 bombings and committed at least 5 murders. In 1980, the US government put an end to the Puerto Rican revolution occurring on the streets of Chicago by sweeping the entire community of its leaders and charging them all with various federal crimes, including sedition - conspiracy to overthrow the US government.
As hard as US prosecutors tried, they couldn’t pin any of the violent crimes on Oscar Lopez Rivera. He had condemned violence since his return from Vietnam and everyone, including the US government, knew it. Instead, they convicted him of sedition and sentenced Rivera to 70 years in prison. Since the first day of his trial, Oscar Lopez Rivera has maintained his innocence. Since then, everyone from the United Nations to Amnesty International has demanded his release.
Read the 2013 Whiteout Press article, ‘Rally to free Oscar Lopez Rivera after 32 Years’ for more information on the history of this tragic case.
Rally to FREE Oscar Lopez Rivera - June 22, 2015
‘The United States government refuses to release from prison Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera despite world-wide support for it,’ explains the Puerto Rican independence website TodosUnidosDescolonizarPR, ‘Oscar has already been incarcerated 7 more years than the 27 years that Nelson Mandela served. What does that say about the US government’s belief in democratic principles, freedom and human rights?’
In an email to Whiteout Press, Jose M Lopez Sierra tells us, “We will be having our 2nd Oscar-Mandela Protest march on Monday, June 22, 2015. We will start marching peacefully at 9 AM from Hunter College on East 68th Street and Lexington Avenue, to East 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue. We will then go east to Ralph Bunche Park on First Avenue across from the United Nations.”
The protest co-organizer goes on to detail, “We will be at the park until 5 PM. We will be giving out flyers and talking to people about who Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera is. We will also be educating the public about Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the government of the United States.”
For more information on the rally to free Oscar Lopez Rivera, visit the blog TodosUnidosDescolonizarPR. The website is in both Spanish and English.