Oscar Lopez, Political Prisoner?

By Daniel Nardini

I find it hard to understand how the term “political prisoner” can be used for people who were found guilty of committing acts that would make them better described as semi-violent criminals. This, in my view, is the case of Oscar Lopez Rivera. Born in San Sabastian, Puerto Rico,  on January 6, 1943, Oscar Lopez was brought to the United States by his family. They eventually moved to Chicago, where Oscar Lopez was heavily involved in activities in the Puerto Rican community. A veteran of the Vietnam War (1963-1973), he worked to create the Puerto Rican High School and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center as well as fight for bilingual education and end discrimination against Latinos. He also helped found FREE, a halfway house for drug addicts, and ALAS, an educational program for Latino prisoners incarcerated in the Stateville prison in Illinois. If Oscar Lopez had simply stayed on the path of being a reform-minded activist he would today be considered a truly great person.

                          However, he was also heavily involved in the Fuerzas Armadas Liberacion de Nacional (FALN), a Puerto Rican nationalist and terrorist group involved in 100 bombings and five deaths through the United States in the 1970’s. Oscar Lopez stated that he was never involved in any of the bombings that killed anyone, and he will to this day neither confirm nor deny being a member of the FALN. However, he never denied running illegal firearms, being an acessory to making the bombs, and working within a group that was actively involved in an attempted overthrow of the U.S. government and the Commonwealth government of Puerto Rico. Whether he killed anyone directly or indirectly, by U.S. law being an accomplice to a violent crime makes that person just as guilty. He was convicted and given a 70 year sentence. He is supposed to be released in 2023.
                             Strangely enough, U.S. President Bill Clinton granted limited clemency to all 14 Puerto Rican nationalists in 1998 on the basis that they renounce the use of force to overthrow the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Only two Puerto Rican prisoners refused the offer—Oscar Lopez being one of them. Twelve of the 14 accepted. Why Oscar Lopez refused when all of his other comrades took the clemency offer is a mystery to me. So now he will sit in prison until he gets out, if he lives that long, in 2023. What amazes me is how many people who want to see Oscar Lopez released immediately. Tell that to law enforcement and the five victims who died in the bombings! Tell that to the families of the five victims who lost their loved ones!
                           To me, a political prisoner is one who simply disagrees with a government or a government’s policy. To me, a religious prisoner is one who practices a religion the government has outlawed. Oscar Lopez fits none of the descriptions. He is a person who was involved in a conspiracy against the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. If he truly wants to make Puerto Rico independent, he could have and should have worked peacefully for trying to advocate for independence through the electoral process. He could have and should have worked peacefully for change where eventually a majority of Puerto Ricans would want and see independence as the best alternative. But now he rots in prison for crimes against the American people. Pity.

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