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Three Score Years and Ten Printer friendly page Print This
By Arturo Rosales writes from Caracas
Axis of Logic
Thursday, Jan 19, 2017

Three score years and Ten or 70 years was the total prison sentence handed down to Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, whose sentence has just been commuted by President Obama in his final days in the Oval Office.

López Rivera is due to be released in May this year and is now 74 years old.

He was found guilty of “seditious conspiracy” in 1981, effectively making him a political prisoner, when working for Puerto Rican independence as a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) and was accused of “undermining US rule” on the island. He was given a sentence of 55 years. Seven years later he received a further 15 years for conspiring to escape from prison. His release date would have been 2051 at the age of 108 years.

The harsh sentence can be interpreted as being influenced not only by the accusations of transporting arms and explosives over state lines but was imposed at the height of the Cold War. The FALN was a Marxist–Leninist militant group which fought to transform Puerto Rico into a communist state.

Nevertheless, despite the group’s militancy and bombing campaign in mainland US, López Rivera did not kill or bomb anyone. Since his arrest in 1977, he has spent more than half of his life behind bars and more time in jail than Nelson Mandela who was, in fact, classified as a terrorist by the South African apartheid regime.

During his imprisonment for this long period, he spent twelve years in solitary confinement which is standard practice by the US “humanitarian” prison regime in order to break a prisoner’s spirit and impose punishment rather than rehabilitation. For those twelve years he was forbidden to speak or have contact with anyone and was confined to sitting on a concrete bed with a latrine for company.

Axis of Logic Editor, Les Blough, will certainly understand what López Rivera had to endure as he was a prison guard in Tennessee and Pennsylvania for many years.

In 2015, President Nicolás Maduro of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela brought up the case of López Rivera in a television broadcast and drew the attention of the Venezuelan public to his unusual punishment and unjust plight. Maduro proposed a prisoner exchange – López Rivera for convicted murderer Leopoldo López who had recently been convicted for 14 years in Venezuela. As was to be expected, his offer was met with a stony silence by US authorities.

On several occasions President Maduro has called for Puerto Rican independence and has even suggested that the island could become a member of CELAC (Confederation of Latin American & Caribbean States) from which the US and Canada are excluded.

Puerto Rico – as well as Cuba – and their independence from colonial rule was always a project The Liberator Simón Bolívar had in mind. But since he died when just 47 years of age in 1830, time was not on his side to liberate either of these Caribbean islands from Spanish imperial rule. Cuba finally achieved its independence in 1959 thanks to Fidel’s revolution but Puerto Rico, since 1898, is still under US control even though it is officially called an “Associated Free State of the USA”. It is ruled by US laws, paying IRS taxes but the population, even though they have been US citizens since 1917, cannot even vote in US Congressional Elections.  

Obama has done little good for the world or humanity in his eight years as president but the decision to commute López Rivera’s sentence by half using his attributions as President is at least a tiny glimmer of light in the darkened cell of his hypocritical mandate.

Today, in an international and interactive press conference, President Maduro thanked Obama for commuting López Rivera’s sentence and is looking forward to meeting him and shaking his hand when he is finally liberated.

This will certainly happen as the Cuban Five who also spent many years unjustly condemned in the US prison system, also came to Venezuela after their release.

The following video from Democracy Now! published in 2013 when López Rivera had been in jail for 32 years gives a comprehensive background on the soon to be released prisoner and reminds us of all of the extreme prison sentences imposed on people who dare oppose or stand up to US hegemony especially in its “back yard”.

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