by Ana Lopez
Prominent supporters of imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who turned 74 years old last week in his thirty-fifth year behind bars, will deliver 100,000 petitions to the White House this afternoon, Wednesday, January 11. Grammy-award winning artist Rene Perez, Illinois Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez, Florida Congressman
Darren Soto, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto, will lead the delegation demanding that President Obama use his presidential power of pardon to grant López Rivera clemency in the last week of Obama’s tenure in office. “Our deeply profound and moral commitment to Oscar and his freedom,” asserted the group, “once again brings us to the gates of the White House.”
An additional 108,000 digital petitions on the White House website, We, The People, have called for López Rivera’s release, which is also supported by leading international human rights figures including Nobel Peace laureates former President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Connecting Obama’s, Carter’s and Tutu’s Nobel Prizes with that of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (whose birthday is commemorated on Monday, January 16), Tutu – in a special message written to coincide with today’s action – stated that the participants “feel for good reason that all avenues and channels have been exhausted, and that leaving the elder López Rivera to face the coming years behind bars would constitute a grave injustice to all the peoples of Latin America. As a growing number of heads of state throughout that continent are calling him ‘the Mandela of the Americas,’ I am reminded of the prophetic words of Dr. King – who was, after all, also a political prisoner: ‘I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states,’ King wrote. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
López Rivera, widely considered to be a political prisoner, is one of the longest held in this hemisphere. He was arrested in 1981 and sentenced to 70 years in prison on charges including seditious conspiracy, despite no evidence or charges of involvement in any act of violence. Twelve of his 35 years behind bars were spent in solitary confinement, and support in Puerto Rico for his release comes from across the political spectrum, including from strong opponents of the independence option advocated by López Rivera, and from the island’s current and former Governors.
The January 11 protest follows a video release last Thursday by Our Revolution, the successor to the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, with the former Presidential hopeful calling for clemency for Lopez Rivera and urging his supporters to contact the White House. Emails, texts, and tweets continue to flow demanding that President Obama take immediate action, and – in San Juan – a supporter of López Rivera is on hunger strike to draw attention to his cause. United Nations Special Representative and Nobel Peace Prize recipient José Ramos-Horta, the former head of state of the Pacific island of East Timor, sent a message to President Obama and the January 11 organizers noting, “Eight years ago, approaching the Presidency, Barack Obama was heartily welcomed into the community of Nobel Peace laureates with great hope on the horizon. Now, as President Obama approaches civilian life, there can be no better way to demonstrate restorative justice than pardoning Oscar.
Ana Lopez is the NY coordinator for the Free Oscar Movement and can be reached at nycoordinator.freeoscar@