By Margaret Ramirez chicagotribune.com May 29, 2011
With prayer, song and calls for freedom, dozens of Puerto Rican
community members and human rights activists gathered today to mark
the 30th year in prison for Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez
Rivera and called for his release.
Lopez Rivera, now 68, is a gray-haired vestige of a long-gone era in
America, when a group known as the F.A.L.N. (Spanish for the Armed
Forces of National Liberation) fought for Puerto Rico's independence
from the U.S.
More than a dozen FALN members were convicted and imprisoned in the
1980s on various charges including seditious conspiracy and armed
robbery. In 1999, President Bill Clinton granted clemency to nearly
all the prisoners and released them.
Lopez Rivera, who is serving a 70-year sentence in a federal prison
in Terre Haute, Ind., is now the last remaining Puerto Rican prisoner.
In recent months, the National Boricua Human Rights Network and other
activists have launched a national campaign to urge President Barack
Obama to commute his sentence. In addition to a prayer vigil and
rally in Chicago, events were also held in New York, Los Angeles,
Cleveland, Philadelphia and Puerto Rico.
At the Sunday prayer service held at Lincoln United Methodist Church
in Chicago, the prisoner's sister, Zenaida Lopez, said her brother
has done his time and should be allowed to come home.
In addition to his sister, Lopez Rivera has a daughter, Clarissa, who
lives in Puerto Rico and a granddaughter, Karina, who is a student at
the University of Chicago.
"There's one thing that's forgotten in this struggle -- and it's that
Oscar is human," Zenaida Lopez said. "He's a brother. He's a father.
He's a grandfather. He's a son. He's loved deeply by his family.
"We have to struggle to see that he is released, so that he becomes
part of the family once again. It is our dream. It is our hope. It is
something that we talk about every single day.
Also at the prayer service, two activists, Michael Reyes and Matt
McCanna arrived after completing a 10-day, 200-mile walk from the
federal prison in Indiana to Chicago.
The FALN was involved in a series of bombings in New York and
Chicago, including the 1975 bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in
Manhattan that killed four and injured more than 60 others.
Lopez was not convicted for a role in the Tavern incident.
In the Puerto Rican community, Lopez Rivera, a Vietnam War veteran
and community organizer, is widely regarded as hero. But, others view
him as an unrepentant terrorist.
Those opponents said his release would send the wrong message about terrorism.
In February, the U.S. Parole Commission denied Lopez Rivera parole
and released a statement that said: "We have to look at whether
release would depreciate the seriousness of the offenses or promote
disrespect for the law, whether release would jeopardize public
safety and the specific characteristics of the offender."
Even so, his attorney Jan Susler, remains hopeful of his release. She
noted that three previous U.S. presidents have commuted sentences of
Puerto Rican prisoners including presidents Harry Truman, Jimmy
Carter and Clinton.