Today, a man considered the hemisphere’s “longest-serving political prisoner” turns 74. With another birthday down, Oscar López Rivera has now spent nearly half his life incarcerated. In an Our Revolution video – posted the day before his birthday and Día de Reyes – Clarisa López Ramos (his daughter), Bernie Sanders, René Pérez, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and other Puerto Rican figures make a heartfelt plea to President Barack Obama to release López Rivera. “I dream of my dad holding hands in the streets of San Juan, where I live in Puerto Rico, [looking] into the Caribbean Sea – a sea that he hasn’t seen for the past 35 years,” López Ramos said in the video.
The Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) – a paramilitary organization advocating for the independence of Puerto Rico – claimed responsibility for the bombing attacks on more than 120 sites that occurred between 1974 and 1980. In 1981, the government convicted former FALN leader López Rivera of seditious conspiracy, interstate transportation of firearms, and a number of other nonviolent crimes. Originally sentenced to 55 years, López Rivera received an additional 15 years after allegedly attempting to escape. And even though the United Nations deems solitary confinement that exceeds 15 days as a human rights violation, López Rivera served 12 in solitary confinement, according to The Guardian. In 1999, President Bill Clinton commuted the sentence of López Rivera and several other FALN members. But López rejected the offer because it included language painting him as a terrorist.
In the time that López has spent in jail, his family has suffered tremendously. “This process has taken its toll on my family,” his brother, José López Rivera, told Democracy Now! in December. “My mother died almost 20 years ago from Alzheimer’s. She was never able to see him or to touch him, because he was in solitary confinement in a prison that obviously was a control unit prison in Marion, Illinois. My sister passed away, my oldest sister, about seven years ago. So it’s been a major toll. He’s never been able to be with his granddaughter, who graduated from the University of Chicago, now is in dental school. He’s never been able to be part of our lives for 35 years.”
Over the last three decades, the Vietnam veteran has received an impressive amount of support. Just on Thursday, 16 artists and politicians – including Lin-Manuel Miranda, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Rubén Blades, and Cristina Soler – stood in solidarity with López by reciting some of his most powerful quotes. Few issues have united Puerto Ricans across ideological lines like the ongoing campaign for his pardon. A November 11 petition calling for his release garnered 108,413 signatures.
Just before Christmas, the White House published its list of 231 convicted felons receiving presidential pardons or commutations before President Obama steps down, and López Rivera didn’t make the cut. The news came as a blow to Puerto Rican activists hoping that Obama would make a gesture of goodwill toward the island. Some view the potential pardon from Obama as a last chance before Donald Trump assumes the role of president for at least four years.
But even with this setback, his supporters will keep pushing until the very end. On January 11, they will head to the White House to attempt to give Obama 100,000 letters from those who stand in solidarity with López Rivera, according to Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito.
And the video from Our Revolution – a political action organization created from Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign – is the latest attempt to right this injustice. As each person in the video explains why López Rivera deserves to be released, they made the case that 35 years is a disproportionate punishment for his nonviolent crimes. “On January 6, Oscar López turns 74 years old,” said Puerto Rican representative Luis Vegas Ramos. “January 6 is a very important date for the Puerto Rican people. That day we give gifts, particularly to our children. We ask President Obama to give Clarisa and the people of Puerto Rico the gift of having Oscar López back in Puerto Rico.”
As they make this final push, they also urge people to call the White House at 202-456-1111 Monday through Friday to give López his best chance at freedom.
Check out the video below: