[Ppnews] Oscar López Rivera’s 32 Years of Resistance to Torture

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 29 13:44:40 EDT 2013



*Oscar López Rivera’s 32 Years of Resistance to Torture*
*--Will President Obama pardon the longest held Independentista?*

/By Hans Bennett/

(First published by Upside Down World on May 29, 2013. Permission is 
granted to reprint in full as long as Upside Down World is cited, with a 
link to the original article. 

/“It is much easier not to struggle, to give up and take the path of the 
living dead. But if we want to live, we must struggle.” –Oscar López 
Rivera, 1991/

Today, May 29, marks 32 years since Puerto Rican activist Oscar López 
Rivera was arrested and later convicted of “seditious conspiracy,” a 
questionable charge that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has interpreted to mean 
“conspiring to free his people from the shackles of imperial injustice.”

Today, 70-year-old Oscar López Rivera, never accused of hurting anyone, 
remains in a cell at FCI Terre Haute, in Indiana. Supporters around the 
world continue to seek his release, most recently by asking US President 
Barack Obama for a commutation of his sentence. Similar pardons granted 
by President Truman in 1952, President Carter in 1979, and President 
Clinton in 1999, were the legal bases for the release of many other 
Puerto Rican political prisoners.

Since all of Oscar López Rivera’s original co-defendants have already 
won their release, he is famous in Puerto Rico as the longest held 
/Independentista/ political prisoner. Supporters are planning a range of 
events across the island for the upcoming week, as they mark this 
dubious ‘anniversary.’ Among those calling for his release is Javier 
Jiménez Pérez, the mayor of his hometown of San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, 
and a supporter of statehood.

Down World interviewed Dylcia Pagán, one of López Rivera’s co-defendants 
pardoned in 1999, by telephone from her home in Loíza, Puerto Rico, 
where she continues to work in support of other political prisoners. 
Asked why the US government should release López Rivera now, after 32 
years, Pagán told Upside Down World:

“Oscar should be free because he is an incredible human being, an 
artist, and a man that has a lot to give society in both the US and 
Puerto Rico. He has never even been accused of committing an act of 
violence. This conviction for ‘seditious conspiracy’ is what they’ve 
used against all of the Independentistas. The US claims to believe in 
democracy and human rights, but Oscar’s continued imprisonment is a 
clear violation of both.”

Pagán adds: “Oscar has served his time with dignity and has contributed 
to the lives of other prisoners. He deserves to be home in Puerto Rico, 
just like all of us.”

*Between Torture and Resistance*

/“i was born Boricua, i will keep being Boricua, and will die a Boricua. 
i refuse to accept injustice, and will never ignore it when i become 
aware of it.” –Oscar López Rivera, 2011/

With public support continuing to build for Oscar López Rivera’s 
release, PM Press has just published an important book, entitled 
/Between Torture and Resistance/ 
<https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=511>, timed 
well to amplify López Rivera’s voice at this critical time. The book 
bases its text upon letters López Rivera has written over the years to 
lawyer and activist Luis Nieves Falcón, as well as letters to and from 
many family members during his imprisonment. This new book examines the 
broader political significance of López Rivera’s case, while providing 
an unflinching look at how imprisonment and draconian policies like 
solitary confinement and no-contact visits affect prisoners and their 
loved ones.

Perhaps nothing illustrates López Rivera’s character better than how he 
refers to himself with the lowercase use of the letter ‘i,’ in order to 
deemphasize the individual with respect to the collective. His letters 
offer a view into the mind of an extraordinary person. Reading 
first-hand in /Between Torture and Resistance/ about the range of abuses 
that López Rivera has survived while in US custody may cause readers 
nightmares, but his accounts are a badly-needed reality check for anyone 
unfamiliar with the typically brutal treatment of US political 
prisoners. As Reverend Ángel L. Rivera-Agosto, executive secretary of 
the Puerto Rico Council of Churches comments, the book “is a powerful 
testimony, born from the cold bars of imprisonment, as a sign of today’s 
injustice and lack of freedom and respect for human rights.”

The chapter entitled “Life Experiences: 1943-1976,” offers a glimpse 
into the early years of Oscar López Rivera, born on January 6, 1943, in 
Barrio Aibonito of San Sebastián, Puerto Rico. At the age of fourteen, 
he moved with his family to the US and eventually graduated from high 
school in Chicago in 1960. In a 1981 interview, López Rivera’s mother, 
Mita described this initial move, reflecting: “My husband came looking 
for a better environment and it was not to be found here. We have to 
work harder, it’s colder, [there is] more humiliation, more racism for 
us…We live humiliated by the Americans…We suffer in this country.”


*/(López Rivera's painting of his mother, Mita)/*

After working several different jobs to help support his family, in 1965 
the government drafted López Rivera into the Vietnam War, which 
ultimately “awakened previously unexperienced feelings about Puerto 
Rico. First, the Puerto Rican flag became a symbol of important unity 
among the Puerto Rican soldiers…Second, Oscar began to question his role 
in such a terrible war. Why did they have to kill people who had done 
nothing to them? Why kill people who appeared to have things in common 
with Puerto Ricans themselves? He began to question the actions of North 
American imperialism in that Southeast Asian country, and the role of 
Puerto Ricans in the imperialist wars of the United States. These two 
seeds—cultural nationalism and anti-colonial struggle—begin to germinate 
in Oscar’s mind in Vietnam, and ripened later in his life,” writes Luis 
Nieves Falcón.

López Rivera’s politicization continued after serving in Vietnam, when 
he returned to Chicago. After working with the Saul Alinsky-influenced 
Northwest Community Organization, in 1972, he co-founded the Pedro 
Albizu Campos High School, an alternative school controlled directly by 
Puerto Ricans. Nieves Falcón writes that here “Oscar articulated a 
powerful vision of how alternative schools can challenge the essentially 
racist system of mainstream US education.”

In 1973, he co-founded Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural 
Center and in 1975 helped establish Illinois’ first Latino Cultural 
Center. López Rivera participated in some of the Young Lords’ 
activities, but he was not a member of the group. In addition, he worked 
on other issues, including racial discrimination in hiring and working 
conditions, confronting landlords about housing conditions, and 
improving hospital conditions and medical services for the most 
vulnerable. Luis Nieves Falcón comments that Lopez Rivera’s “civil 
activism between 1969 and 1976 clearly evidenced his genuine and 
significant effort to use every possible route of change within 
Chicago’s existing official structures.”

In 1973, after joining the National Hispanic Commission of the Episcopal 
Church, López Rivera publicly supported Independentistas imprisoned in 
the US for attacks on the Blair House (the Presidential guesthouse) in 
1950 and on the US Congress in 1954. In the early 1970s, several armed 
clandestine groups formed in Puerto Rico and carried out actions to 
protest the US occupation of Puerto Rico. At this time, the Armed Forces 
of National Liberation (FALN) formed inside the US and from 1974-1980 
claimed responsibility for multiple bombings, mostly in New York and 
Chicago, of military, government and economic targets. The FALN said 
they meant for their actions to publicize US colonization of Puerto Rico 
and to demand the release of the same imprisoned Independentistas that 
Oscar López Rivera and other community activists had been publicly 

In response, the US government held Grand Jury investigations, ‘fishing’ 
for intelligence on the FALN, in 1974 and from 1976-1977. The government 
jailed several members of the National Hispanic Commission of the 
Episcopal Church for refusing to cooperate with the Grand Jury, 
including López Rivera’s brother, Jose. With Oscar López Rivera 
expecting to be the Grand Jury’s next target, he and three other close 
associates went underground, where López Rivera remained from 1976 until 
his subsequent arrest in 1981.

*Convicted of ‘Seditious Conspiracy’*

/“This is not a trial. It is not even a kangaroo court.” –Oscar López 
Rivera, speaking at the 1981 court proceedings./

Oscar López Rivera’s legal team at the People’s Law Office, explains on 
their website <http://peopleslawoffice.com/case-of-oscar-lopez-rivera/>:

“In 1980, eleven men and women were arrested and later charged with the 
overtly political charge of seditious conspiracy — conspiring to oppose 
U.S. authority over Puerto Rico by force, by membership in the FALN, and 
of related charges of weapons possession and transporting stolen cars 
across state lines. Oscar was not arrested at the time, but he was named 
as a codefendant in the indictment…In 1981, Oscar was arrested after a 
traffic stop, tried for the identical seditious conspiracy charge, 
convicted, and sentenced by the same judge to a prison term of 55 years. 
In 1987 he received a consecutive 15 year term for conspiracy to 
escape–a plot conceived and carried out by government agents and 
informants/provocateurs, resulting in a total sentence of 70 years.”

At Oscar López Rivera’s 1981 trial, he took a position similar to that 
of his co-defendants at their earlier trial: he declared the trial 
illegitimate and refused to present a defense or pursue an appeal. 
However, López Rivera did make an eloquent statement, reprinted in 
/Between Torture and Resistance/:

“Given my revolutionary principles, the legacy of our heroic freedom 
fighters, and my respect for international law—the only law which has a 
right to judge my actions—it is my obligation and my duty to declare 
myself a prisoner of war. I therefore do not recognize the jurisdiction 
of the United States government over Puerto Rico or of this court to try 
me or judge me.”

Later, at his 1987 trial where the court convicted him of “conspiracy to 
escape,” López Rivera took a similar stance, and in his statement, also 
reprinted in the new book, he elaborated further on the precedent set by 
anti-colonialist international law:

“Colonialism, dear members of the jury, is a monumental injustice 
according to the norms of civilized humanity and a crime under 
international law. According to United Nations Resolution 2621, the 
continuation of colonialism in all its forms and manifestations is a 
crime that constitutes a violation of the charter of the United Nations, 
Resolution 1514 (XV), the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to 
Colonial Countries and Peoples….No nation, ladies and gentleman, has the 
right to take over another nation. The military invasion and occupation 
of Puerto Rico clearly depicts the rapacious and voracious nature of the 
United States government, with the armed forces, rifles, and cannons it 
used to subjugate a people into submission and reduce a nation of one 
million inhabitants to a commodity for the bartering of human beings. 
For 89 years, this nation, conquered by force—the Puerto Rican 
people—have been denied their basic rights to self-determination and 


/*(Painting of US-Mexico wall by López Rivera.)*/

*‘Spiritcide’ and the Torture of Imprisonment*

/“The memory of our pain deserves to be appreciated, remembered, and 
never denied.” --Oscar López Rivera, 1997/

Following his 1981 conviction, the government first held López Rivera at 
FCI Leavenworth in Kansas, until 1986. Upon arrival, Luis Nieves Falcón 
writes that “the majority of the prison guards were waiting for him. 
They surrounded him and verbally assaulted him. They repeatedly stressed 
that they didn’t want him there; that he was a dangerous terrorist and 
the place for him was Marion: an even higher-security prison, regarded 
among prison guards as the right place to eliminate terrorists.” Despite 
a clean record at Leavenworth and a 1985 report by his jailers that “he 
demonstrated favorable adjustment and maintained positive relations with 
the staff,” López Rivera became the target of an FBI entrapment scheme, 
involving a fabricated escape plan. On June 24, 1986, just days after 
the government formally accused him of planning to escape, he received a 
disciplinary transfer to the notorious federal prison in Marion, Illinois.

During the court proceedings for the ‘escape’ charges, held from 
September 1986 to February 1988, prison authorities held López Rivera in 
solitary confinement at MCC Chicago. Following his conviction and 
sentence of 15 years, authorities transferred him back to Marion, where 
he stayed until 1994. The new book features his reflections upon his 
living conditions during this period. López Rivera writes:

“i use the word ‘spiritcide’ to describe the dehumanizing and pernicious 
existence that i have suffered…i face, on the one hand, an environment 
that is a sensory deprivation laboratory, and on the other hand, a 
regimen replete with obstacles to deny, destroy or paralyze my 
creativity…i am locked up in a cell that is 6’ wide and 9’long, for an 
average of 22 ½ hours a day…Living in these conditions day after day and 
year after year has to have an adverse effect on my senses. i don’t have 
access to fresh air or to natural light because when i turn off the 
light in the cell to sleep, the guards keep the outside lights on and 
light enters the cell…Day and night i hear the roaring of the electric 
fans, whose noise is so strident that when I don’t hear them, i feel 

Later in the same letter, López Rivera explains how he has survived:

“i know that the human spirit has the capacity to resurrect after 
suffering spiritcide. And like the rose or the wilted leaf falls and 
dies and in its place a newer and stronger one is reborn or resurrects, 
my spirit will also resurrect if the jailers achieve their goals…My 
certainty lies in my confidence that i have chosen to serve a just and 
noble cause. A free, just, and democratic homeland represents a sublime 
ideal worth fighting for…i am in this dungeon and the possibility that i 
will be freed is remote, not to say impossible, under conditions equal 
to or worse than caged animals, under spiritual and physical attack, but 
with full dignity and with a clean and clear conscience.”


/*(Painting by Oscar López Rivera)*/

In 1994, authorities transferred López Rivera to a new federal prison in 
Florence, Colorado that soon became as notorious as Marion was, for its 
own human rights abuses. After over a year of good behavior at Florence, 
authorities transferred him back to Marion after denying his request to 
be transferred elsewhere. Even though Marion had officially become lower 
security than before, following his transfer back, López Rivera reported 
that conditions had become worse.

Perhaps most chilling is his account of getting an operation for a 
hemorrhoid condition three days after his mother had passed away. 
Authorities had denied his request to attend the funeral. Within hours 
of the procedure, the area operated upon became infected, with his fever 
finally reaching 102.7 degrees. At this point, instead of giving him 
antibiotics as he immediately requested from the medical staff, 
authorities accused him of stealing the needle used for a blood test. 
The authorities cruelly withheld the antibiotics. Two days later, as the 
still untreated infection got even worse,

“They released me from the hospital and returned me to the hole. The 
jailers that took me were racing wheel chairs. Every turn made me feel 
as if someone was cutting me with a razor. i got to the cell and was 
preparing to clean up the blood. A lieutenant came in and said they were 
going to cuff me…According to him i had stolen the needle and 
immediately passed it to an accomplice who took it away…They searched me 
from head to toe. Blood was running down my legs, and here he was 
passing a metal detector on my rear. To punish me, they did not allow me 
to use the sitz bath or give me medications.”

It was not until 10:00 pm, the following day, López Rivera writes “that 
they gave me the sitz bath and the antibiotics…An hour later, my body 
responded and I was able to use the toilet—an incredibly painful ordeal”

In 1998, after 12 years in total isolation, authorities transferred 
López Rivera to FCI Terre Haute, in Indiana, where he remains today. 
Once there, he was finally able to have contact visits and other new 
‘privileges,’ which increased his quality of life. Despite these 
improvements, the People’s Law Office reports that prison authorities 
imposed a special condition requiring him to report his whereabouts 
every two hours to prison guards. Even though this condition was 
initially scheduled to end after 18 months, it still continues today, 
over 14 years later.

Since 1999, authorities have barred the media from interviewing López 
Rivera, “in spite of policy allowing for media interviews of prisoners, 
in spite of allowing media interviews of other prisoners, and in spite 
of having allowed Oscar to be interviewed many times previously, without 
incident. Each rejection has used the identical, unsubstantiated excuse 
that ‘the interview could jeopardize security and disturb the orderly 
running of the institution,’” writes the People’s Law Office, noting 
further that “since 2011, the government has extended this ban beyond 
media, rejecting requests by New York elected officials to meet with Oscar.”


/*(Painting of socialist Salvador Allende by López Rivera)*/

*The Struggle Continues*

/“They will never be able to break my spirit or my will./ /Every day i 
wake up alive is a blessing.” –Oscar López Rivera, 2006/

In 2011, the denial of parole to Oscar López Rivera outraged the leaders 
of Puerto Rico’s political and civil society, who publicly denounced the 
ruling. One critic, Puerto Rico’s non-voting U.S. congressional 
representative, Pedro Pierluisi, said, “I don’t see how they can justify 
another 12 years of prison after he has spent practically 30 years in 
prison, and the others who were charged with the same conduct are 
already in the free community. It seems to me to be excessive punishment.”

In response to the parole denial, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner 
Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined Nobel Laureates Máiread Corrigan Maguire 
of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina, to send a 
letter to US President Barack Obama expressing their concern about his 
parole hearing. The letter cited how “testimony was permitted at that 
hearing regarding crimes López Rivera was never accused of committing in 
the first place, and a decision was handed down which—in denying 
parole—pronounced a veritable death sentence by suggesting that no 
appeal for release be heard again until 2023.”

Following the parole denial, López Rivera declared in a public statement 
to supporters:

“We have not achieved the desired goal. But we achieved something more 
beautiful, more precious and more important. And that is the fact that 
the campaign included people who represent a rainbow of political 
ideologies, religious beliefs, and social classes that exist in Puerto 
Rico. This to me represents the magnanimity of the Boricua heart—one 
filled with love, compassion, courage and hope.”

Today, López Rivera and his support campaign are focusing their efforts 
on a a letter-writing campaign asking US President Barack Obama to 
pardon him (view/download a suggested letter 
<http://boricuahumanrights.org/2012/10/13/write-to-pres-obama/>). There 
is a strong precedent for this strategy. In 1952, President Harry Truman 
commuted the death sentence of Oscar Collazo. In 1977 and 1979, 
President Jimmy Carter pardoned Andrés Figueroa Cordero, Rafael Cancel 
Miranda, Lolita Lebrón, Irving Flores and Oscar Collazo.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Oscar López Rivera’s 
co-defendants Edwin Cortés, Elizam Escobar, Ricardo Jiménez, Adolfo 
Matos, Dylcia Pagán, Luis Rosa, Alberto Rodríguez, Alicia Rodríguez, Ida 
Luz Rodríguez, Alejandrina Torres, Carmen Valentín, and Juan Segarra 
Palmer. President Clinton offered to release López Rivera on the 
condition that he serve ten more years in prison. However, because 
Clinton did not extend that offer to two other Independentista 
prisoners, López Rivera did not accept the offer. In 2009 and 2010, 
those two other prisoners won their release on parole, making López 
Rivera the last co-defendant still imprisoned today, even though 
Clinton’s offer would have ostensibly released him in 2009.

Dylcia Pagán, pardoned in 1999, says that after 32 years of 
imprisonment, the time is now for President Barack Obama to pardon Oscar 
López Rivera. Asked to compare today’s political climate to that in 
1999, Pagán is optimistic and says the movement is “alive and well,” 
with popular pressure continuing to build in support of López Rivera. 
“Hopefully, Oscar will be home by Christmas.

The new book, Between Torture and Resistance 
<https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=511>, concludes 
with a final thought from Luis Nieves Falcón:

"The best tribute we can extend to Oscar is to continue to fight every 
day, with yet greater determination, for his release. Every day that 
Oscar remains in prison is another reminder of the hypocrisy and 
absurdity of the US government's talk of human rights in light of its 
colonial rule. In the strongest possible terms, let us raise our voices 
to denounce this abuse and demand freedom for Oscar López Rivera."


/*(Painting of Hurricane Katrina survivors outside of the Super Dome in 
Louisiana, by López Rivera)*/

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20130529/b5377e3f/attachment.html>

More information about the PPnews mailing list