Oscar López Rivera is a Puerto Rican Nationalist who was convicted and sentenced to 70 years in prison for seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and ammunition to aid in the commission of a felony, and interstate transportation of stolen vehicles. He was among the 16 Puerto Rican nationalists offered conditional clemency by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1999, but he rejected the offer. His sister, Zenaida López, said he refused the offer because on parole, he would be in “prison outside prison." Congressman Pedro Pierluisi, has stated that "the primary reason that López Rivera did not accept the clemency offer extended to him in 1999 was because it had not also been extended to fellow independence prisoner Carlos Alberto Torres (who was subsequently released from prison in July 2010).”
The president’s offer was strongly opposed by Republicans and law enforcement agencies. President Clinton defended his clemency decision stating that López Rivera was never convicted of crimes that resulted in deaths or injuries. López Rivera was never accused of any act of violence.
López Rivera is said to be “among the longest held political prisoners in the history of Puerto Rico and in the world." He has been jailed for 32 years, 7 months, and 5 days.
On 29 May 2013, on the 32nd anniversary of his continuous incarceration, high-ranking politicians, former prison personnel, singers, actors, Major League baseball players, and hundreds of other volunteers participated in mock-up prison cells events throughout Puerto Rico "crying out” for the release of López Rivera from the American prison system.
Oscar López Rivera was born in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, on 6 January 1943. His family moved to the U.S. when he was nine years old. At the age of 14, he moved to Chicago to live with a sister. At age 18 he was drafted into the army and served in Vietnam and awarded the Bronze Star. When he returned to Illinois from the war in 1967, he found that drugs, unemployment, housing, health care and education in the Puerto Rican community had reached dire levels and set to work in community organizations to improve the quality of life for his people.
He was a well-respected community activist and an independence leader for many years prior to his arrest. Oscar worked in the creation of both the Puerto Rican High School and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. He was also involved in the struggle for bilingual education in public schools and to force universities to actively recruit Latino students, staff, and faculty. He worked on ending discrimination in public utilities like Illinois Bell, People’s Gas, and Commonwealth Edison.
Oscar was one of the founders of the Rafael Cancel Miranda High School, now known as the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School and the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center. He was a community organizer for the Northwest Community Organization (NCO), ASSPA, ASPIRA and the 1st Congregational Church of Chicago. He helped to found FREE, a half-way house for convicted drug addicts, and ALAS, an educational program for Latino prisoners at Stateville Prison in Illinois.
The U.S. Government describes López Rivera as one of the leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a Puerto Rican Nationalist group linked to more than 100 bombings and five deaths in the 1970s. López Rivera will neither confirm nor deny his affiliation with the FALN and disowns any personal involvement in the bombing deaths.
A warrrant for the arrest of Oscar Lopez was first issued in 1977 for the possession and storage of explosives. That same year, both Carlos Alberto Torres and Lopez were indicted in Chicago for the receiving of 200 sticks of dynamite from Colorado and concealing them at their Chicago apartment. In 1980, Ida Rodriguez, the wife of Lopez, Torres, and nine others were arrested in Evanston, Illinois, while preparing to rob an armored truck. Raids a few days later of a house in Milwaukee, rented by Lopez and his wife, and of an apartment in Jersey City, N.J., rented by Torres, found bomb-making materials. Lopez was apprehended, initially for a minor traffic violation, in Chicago in 1981. Alfredo Mendez, one of the FALN members arrested, began co-operating with the government, and testified that Lopez taught him how to make a bomb using dynamite, convert a battery and a wrist watch into timed bombing-detonation devices and how to make gun silencers.
At his trial 1980-81, López and the other Chicago-based FALN comrades were not tied to specific bombings. Instead, he was convicted of seditious conspiracy (“attempt to overthrow the government of the United States in Puerto Rico by force”), armed robbery, and lesser offenses. Declaring his status as a prisoner of war, he refused to participate in the proceedings.
While none of the bombings of which they were convicted resulted in deaths or injuries, the authorities have never been able to convict anyone for the Fraunces Tavern bombing in 1975; the FALN did take responsibility for that bombing.
López Rivera was given a 70-year federal sentence for seditious conspiracy and other charges. Among the other convicted Puerto Rican nationalists there were sentences of as long as 90 years in Federal prisons for offenses including sedition, possession of unregistered firearms, interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, interference with interstate commerce by violence and interstate transportation of firearms with intent to commit a crime. None of those granted clemency were convicted in any of the actual bombings. Rather, they had been convicted on a variety of charges ranging from bomb making and conspiracy to armed robbery and firearms violations. They were all convicted for sedition, the act of attempting to overthrow the Government of the United States in Puerto Rico by force.
While López Rivera does not deny of confirm his affiliation with the FALN, and disowns any personal involvement in the bombing deaths, the FALN was involved in more than 100 bombings in New York, Chicago and other cities. The 1975 bombing at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan killed four people: Harold H. Sherburne, age 66; Frank Connor, age 33; James Gezork, age 32; and Alejandro Berger, age 28. Joseph F. Connor, the son of one of the dead at Fraunces Tavern, has played an instrumental role in blocking the release of a man he considers in part responsible for his father’s death, and who has never expressed contrition for those actions.
There were reports of human rights violations against the FALN prisoners. The prisoners were placed in prisons far from their families, some were sexually assaulted by prison personnel, some were denied adequate medical attention, and others were kept in isolated underground prison cells for no reason. Amnesty International and the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Administration of Justice both criticized the conditions. The conditions were found to be in violation of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. A federal judge also addressed his concerns in the case of Baraldine vs. Meese.
In 1988, he was convicted of conspiracy to escape and given an additional 15 years. After spending twelve years in maximum security prisons in Marion, Illinois and Florence, Colorado, under conditions described as oppressive, in 1998, he was transferred to the general prison population at the federal correctional facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he remains today. In 2006, theUnited Nations called for the release of the remaining Puerto Rican political prisoners in United States prisons.