After years of sustained pressure from activists and everyday Puerto Ricans alike, President Obama has officially commuted the sentence of Boricua political prisoner Oscar López Rivera. A former member of the underground Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FNL, later known as the “Macheteros,”) Oscar López Rivera was found guilty of seditious conspiracy and other non-violent crimes in 1981 after being linked to a Chicago weapons storehouse. His original sentence of 55 years, of which he’s currently served 35, was extended by 15 years after he attempted to escape from prison in 1988.
López and several members of the FALN were eventually offered conditional release by President Clinton in 1999, but he rejected the offer when it included language that painted him as a terrorist and failed to include other members of the FALN. Many of his supporters have referred to López Rivera as the hemisphere’s “longest-serving political prisoner,” and viewed an offer of clemency from President Obama as the Vietnam veteran’s last chance before a potentially lengthy Trump presidency.
According to President Obama’s terms, López Rivera’s sentence will now end on May 17th, allowing the 74-year-old Puerto Rican independence icon to spend his final years in Puerto Rico, where he plans to continue working for the greater good of his beloved island. The news comes on the heels of another high-profile commutation, which will see high-profile US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning freed on the same day after serving three years of a 35-year sentence.
Many stateside conservative pundits will certainly be disappointed by the decision, but the campaign for López Rivera’s freedom has become a unifying movement across political stripes in Puerto Rico.