[Ppnews] Unconquerable Souls: Updates on a Puerto Rican Political Prisoner

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 25 10:33:28 EDT 2013

  Unconquerable Souls: Updates on a Puerto Rican Political Prisoner

By Francis Torres <http://www.brownpoliticalreview.org/author/ftorres/>


In a previous article 
I wrote about the case of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez 
Rivera and the growing campaign in favor of his liberation. This week I 
take the opportunity to update readers on some of the campaign's recent 

Thanks to the actions of civil rights and Puerto Rican pro-independence 
organizations, word of Oscar Lopez Rivera continues to reach thousands 
of people both within and outside of Puerto Rico, even if the man 
himself is confined to the same federal prison he has lived in for years 
in Terre Haute, Indiana. The 70-year-old Puerto Rican independence 
activist is currently in his 32^nd year of imprisonment. Following 
dozens of activities across the island and in the U.S., however, his 
case has grown more relevant than ever in Puerto Rican society. The many 
groups of the liberation campaign have kept up the pressure and recently 
gained some impressive victories as a result.

On September 11, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of 
Industrial Organizations (AFL--CIO), 
the largest federation of unions in the U.S., approved a resolution 
demanding that President Barack Obama grant Lopez Rivera an executive 
pardon. On September 14, thousands of Puerto Ricans attended a concert 
honoring Lopez Rivera's life and struggle. Some of the island's most 
famous musicians participated, adding their voices to those of the many 
activists, politicians and other public figures that have lobbied for 
his release. And on September 16, Puerto Rican governor Alejandro Garcia 
Padilla brought the issue to light again 
during an official visit to Washington.

One of the more interesting events of the campaign, however, took place 
last month. On August 22 
the Puerto Rican state department hosted a conference which brought 
together several professors and pro-Lopez Rivera activists to talk about 
the history of seditious conspiracy (the charge which Lopez Rivera was 
jailed for) and the similarities between the independence fighter and 
other famous political prisoners -- specifically Nelson Mandela, former 
president of South Africa and leader of the armed struggle against the 
country's apartheid system.

Predictably, many people call the comparison unfair and superficial. 
Detractors argue that Mandela's actions enjoyed the support of a 
majority of his country's population, while the Puerto Rican 
independence movement has never boasted a backing of the majority since 
the U.S. invaded the island in 1898. Others simply recoil at the notion 
of equating a world-renowned freedom fighter and politician to a man 
that is currently labeled as a domestic terrorist. These apparent 
differences do not address each man's actions, but rather their 
historical context. When viewed in terms of individual actions and 
decisions, the similarities between Mandela and Lopez Rivera are much 
more apparent.

The most obvious resemblance is the prolonged imprisonment both men have 
endured for political reasons. Mandela, like Lopez Rivera, was charged 
with seditious conspiracy to overthrow his government and punished with 
a lengthy sentence. The man spent 27 years behind bars, enduring 
physical and psychological maltreatment. Lopez Rivera has spent 32 years 
in federal prisons on a 70-year sentence, suffering many of the same 
human rights abuses Mandela did, in addition to extended solitary 
confinement. Both men were vilified for using violent methods to aid 
their cause: Mandela for his covert bombing campaigns with the armed 
wing of the ANC 
(African National Congress), and Lopez Rivera for his participation in 
the pro-independence group FALN 
<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/200960/FALN> (Armed Forced 
for National Liberation). Due to their actions, both have been called 
extremists and terrorists.

Like so many other freedom fighters of the 20^th century, Mandela and 
Lopez Rivera subscribed to leftist and liberationist ideologies typical 
of the Third World struggles of their times. Both experienced political 
and social marginalization due to their race and sought to aid their 
disempowered communities seeking greater representation -- Mandela as a 
politician <http://www.history.com/topics/nelson-mandela>, Lopez Rivera 
as a community organizer 

Perhaps the most important similarities between both men are their 
strength of will and peace of mind in the face of adversity -- their 
unconquerable souls. Mandela famously used his time in prison to keep 
fighting for his cause. The strength of his convictions was respected by 
fellow inmates, and his letters allowed him to shape events in South 
Africa and the rest of the world. Upon emerging from prison as an old 
man, his youthful energy and desire to better his country were 
undiminished. Over the course of the last 32 years, Lopez Rivera's 
letters have strengthened the resolve of independence activists and 
sympathizers lobbying for his release. Through these letters he has 
helped shape the discourse of the contemporary Puerto Rican left wing, 
and made his case a rallying cry for many islanders. He showed his own 
strength when he declined a presidential pardon from Bill Clinton in 
solidarity with two fellow imprisoned /independentistas/ who were not 
offered clemency.

El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's largest daily newspaper, recently agreed to 
publish Lopez Rivera's periodic letters to his granddaughter. In one of 
these, titled "Where the Sea Breathes," he writes about his experience 
in a supermax prison: "Did you know that ADX, the maximum security 
prison in Florence [CO], is filled with the US.'s worst criminals and is 
considered the most impregnable and harshest in the country? There, 
prisoners have no contact with each other. It is a labyrinth of steel 
and cement made to isolate and incapacitate. I was among the first to 
populate the prison" (my translation).

On June 30, President Obama visited Mandela's old prison cell in Robben 
Island. Before leaving, he wrote the following message on the historical 
site's guest book: "On behalf of our family we're deeply humbled to 
stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to 
yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind 
us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human 
spirit." It would be hard not to notice the irony of this statement. 
Those of us fighting for Oscar's freedom hope that President Obama will 
soon recognize the Mandela in our midst, and make good on his many 
promises to respect expressions of Puerto Rican popular will. The 
bludgeon that is chance might have made Lopez Rivera a terrorist and 
Mandela a hero in America's eyes, but the fates of men of such courage 
as them deserve not to be ignored.


Francis, Class of '16, is a BPR columnist and International Relations 
concentrator from San Juan, Puerto Rico, with an interest in Latin 
American politics. He also enjoys playing guitar, salsa dancing, sailing 
and keeping up with the Latino indie music and film scene. Perpetually 
in search of a Puerto Rican-themed food cart .

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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