puerto rican revolutionary

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 BellPeople’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.

More information

‘U.S. Get Out Of Vietnam Now!! Year of Solidarity with Vietnam / October 8-11’, Sponsored by the Black Panther Party, Young Lords Organization, and Students for a Democratic Society / Revolutionary Youth Movement, Chicago, 1969.

Happy birthday, Blanca Canales!

Blanca Canales (February 17, 1906 – July 25, 1996) was an educator and a Puerto Rican Nationalist leader who may have been the first woman to lead a revolt against the United States. Canales joined the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1931 and helped organize the Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.

As a leader of the Nationalist party in Jayuya, she stored arms in her house, which were used in a revolt in 1950 against United States rule over the island. During the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s she led members in the Jayuya Uprising, in which Nationalists took control of the town for three days.

Canales (birth name: Blanca Canales Torresola) was born in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. She was the younger sister of writer and politician Nemesio Canales. Her family was politically active and her father was part of the “Partido Unión de Puerto Rico” (Union Party of Puerto Rico). It lobbied for the independence of the island. Her mother was a strong-willed woman who encouraged her children to think for themselves.

As a child, Canales read many books and stories about other nations and their heroes. She often accompanied her father to political meetings, where she enjoyed the speeches, flag-waving, and patriotic fervor. Canales finished her primary and secondary education in Jayuya.

In 1924, her father died and her mother moved to Ponce. Canales graduated from Ponce High School and, in May 1930, earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Puerto Rico. Before graduating, she attended a conference given by the President of the Puerto Rican Nationalist PartyPedro Albizu Campos, and was impressed by the ideals of independence which he preached. Canales returned to the university that same year, and took a course of study in social work.

Canales returned to Jayuya and worked at a local rural school. In 1931, she joined the Nationalist Party and was active in organizing the Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. During the 1940s, Canales’ active political participation was limited to making monetary collections because her job kept her constantly traveling from San Juan to Ponce.

Prior to her joining the party, a series of increasingly hostile events between the U.S.-appointed government and the Nationalists took place in the 1930s. In 1936, Albizu Campos was arrested and on March 31, 1937 the infamous Ponce Massacre took place. In 1947, Albizu Campos was released from jail.

On May 21, 1948, a bill was introduced before the Puerto Rican Senate which would restrain the rights of the independence and Nationalist movements in the island. The Senate, which at the time was controlled by the PPD and presided by Luis Muñoz Marín, approved the bill. This bill, also known as the Ley de la Mordaza (Gag Law) and Law 53, received the approval of the legislature on May 21, 1948. The bill, which resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States, was signed into law on June 10, 1948, by the U.S.-appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero and became known as Ley 53 (Law 53).

Under this new law it would be a crime to print, publish, sell, or exhibit any material intended to paralyze or destroy the insular government; or to organize any society, group or assembly of people with a similar destructive intent. Anyone accused and found guilty of disobeying the law could be sentenced to ten years imprisonment, a fine of $10,000 dollars (U.S.), or both.

According to Dr. Leopoldo Figueroa, member of the Partido Estadista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Statehood Party) and the only member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives who did not belong to the PPD, the law was repressive and in violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution which guarantees Freedom of Speech. As such, this was an assault on the civil rights of every Puerto Rican.

On June 21, 1948, Albizu Campos gave a speech in the town of Manati, which explained how this Gag Law violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Nationalists from all over the island attended – to hear Campos’s speech, and to prevent the police from arresting him.

Happy birhday, Carlos Vélez Rieckehoff!

Carlos Vélez Rieckehoff (November 18, 1907 – November 19, 2005), was the President of the New York chapter of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in the 1930s. In the 1990s Rieckehoff was among the protesters who protested against the United States Navy’s use of his birthplace, the island of Vieques, as a bombing range. He stood in front of the committee of the U.S. House of Representatives investigating the situation in Vieques and pleaded for the return of Vieques to the people of Puerto Rico.

Rieckehoff (birth name: Máximo Carlos Vélez Rieckehoff) was born in Vieques, Puerto Rico. His maternal ancestors emigrated from Germany and settled in Vieques. He was raised in a homestead owned by his parents whom, although poor farmers (“jíbaros”) were able to provide him with his basic needs and a good education. He a was a relative of German Rieckehoff, a follower of the Puerto Rican independence movement himself, who became renowned as the president of the Puerto Rican Olympic committee.

In the 1930s, Rieckehoff moved to New York City in search of employment. On one occasion a fifteen-year-old boy handed him a Puerto Rican Nationalist Party pamphlet and he became interested in the Puerto Rican independence movement. Rieckehoff attended the party meetings and eventually became the president of the New York chapter of the Nationalist Party.

Rieckehoff returned to Puerto Rico where he had the opportunity to become acquainted with Don Pedro Albizu Campos, the president of the Nationalist Party. With Albizu Campos he learned to have pride in his heritage and a willingness to sacrifice his life and safety, if necessary, for the cause of independence. On one occasion Rieckehoff attempted to seize a Puerto Rican flag, from an organization he felt was not in genuine sympathy with what the flag stood for. The police gave chase and he barely escaped with his life. In the 1940s, Rieckehoff found work in a sugar cane ranch. During this period of his life he met and later married Luisa Guadalupe, a young lady also from Vieques.[1]

During World War II, the United States military purchased about two thirds of Vieques as an extension to the Puerto Rican mainland's Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. The original purpose of the base, though never implemented, was to provide a safe haven for the British fleet should Britain fall to Nazi Germany. Much of the land was bought from the owners of large farms and sugar cane plantations, who were paid a pittance for their homes and given twenty-four hours to evacuate. The purchases triggered the final demise of the sugar industry in Vieques. Many agricultural workers, who had no title to the land they occupied, were evicted. Among those who were forced out of their jobs was Rieckehoff who, together with his wife, went to New York to seek employment. In New York he drove a truck, worked as a night watchman, whatever work he could find while his wife, Luisa, worked in a factory.

After the war, the US Navy continued to use the island for military exercises, as a firing range, and a testing ground for bombsmissiles, and other weapons in a manner not unlike Kahoolawe in the Hawaiian Islands.

On June 10, 1948, a bill was introduced before the Puerto Rican Senate which would restrain the rights of the independence and nationalist movements in the island. The Senate at the time was controlled by the PPD and presided by Luis Muñoz Marín. The Bill, also known as the “Ley de la Mordaza” (gag Law), made it illegal to display a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic tune, to talk of independence, and to fight for the liberation of the island. The Bill which resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States, was signed and made into law on June 11, 1948, by the U.S.-appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero and became known as “Ley 53” (Law 53).[4] In accordance to the new law, it would be a crime to print, publish, sale, to exhibit or organize or to help anyone organize any society, group or assembly of people whose intentions are to paralyze or destroy the insular government. Anyone accused and found guilty of disobeying the law could be sentenced to ten years of prison, be fined $10,000 dollars (US) or both. According to Dr. Leopoldo Figueroa, a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, the law was repressive and was in violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution which guarantees Freedom of Speech. He pointed out that the law as such was a violation of the civil rights of the people of Puerto Rico.[5]

In the 1950s, Nationalist meetings were outlawed. When Rieckehoff and other members of the party were detained by the police and asked about their political affiliations, he acknowledged that he was a member of the Nationalist Party. Rieckehoff was arrested, along with Don Pedro Albizu Campos and other Nationalists, and served three years in prison.

In 1980, Rieckehoff presented himself in front of the committee of the U.S. House of Representatives investigating the situation in Vieques. He pleaded for the return of Vieques to the people. He also stated that the very seizure of Puerto Rico through the Treaty of Paris of 1898 was null, since Puerto Rico had already been granted autonomy from Spain. He compared the invasion of Puerto Rico to the attempt of Russia to take over Finland in the 19th century. He pointed out that an international conference examining the issue had determined that “the rights of a country to national liberty is free from war conquests and diplomatic treaties.”

The continuing postwar presence in Vieques of the United States Navy drew protests from the local community, angry at the expropriation of their land and the environmental impact of weapons testing. The locals’ discontent was exacerbated by the island’s parlous economic condition. In May 2003 the Navy withdrew from Vieques, and much of the island was designated a National Wildlife Refuge under the control of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1979, Rieckehoff attended the International Conference in Support of Independence for Puerto Rico held in Mexico City as acting president of the Nationalist Party while the president of the party Jacinto Rivera was in Spain.

Rieckehoff was among a group of citizens who helped in the restoration of the Fuerte Conde de Mirasol (Count of Marisol Fort) of Vieques, under the direction of Robert Rabin the cofounder of the Historical Archives of Vieques.

On November 19, 2005 Rieckehoff died in Vieques. In December 2007, an art exhibit was held at the Museum Fuerte Conde de Mirasol, and the opening ceremonies of the museum were dedicated to the memory of Carlos Velez Rieckehoff.