Supporters call for release of Puerto Rican nationalist

With prayer, song and calls for freedom, dozens of Puerto Rican community members and human rights activists gathered Sunday to mark the 30th year in prison for Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera and to call for his release, Margaret Ramirez reports for the Chicago Tribune.

Lopez Rivera, now 68, is a gray-haired vestige of an era in America when a group known as the FALN (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 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 the last remaining FALN prisoner. Lopez Rivera, who had been serving a 55-year sentence for conspiracy, was sentenced to an additional 15 years in 1988 after he was convicted of plotting an escape from prison. In 1999, he rejected Clinton’s conditional offer for a reduced sentence.

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 held in New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Phladelphia and Puerto Rico.

During the Sunday prayer service 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’s family includes a daughter, Clarissa, who lives in Puerto Rico, and a granddaughter, Karina, 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, 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 Chicago and New York, including the 1975 bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan that killed four and injured more than 60.

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 a 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 refused to release Lopez Rivera and issued 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.”

His attorney Jan Susler, remains hopeful that he’ll be released. She noted that three U.S. presidents — Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Clinton — have commuted sentences of Puerto Rican prisoners.

For the original report go to http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-faln-protest-0530-20110530,0,5518759.story

Photo: Zenaida Lopez, center, sister of Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, attends a Sunday rally marking the 30th year of her brother’s imprisonment. Supporters have called for his release. (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune / May 30, 2011)

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