Oscar López Rivera’s Commuted Sentence Celebrated in NY

Oscar López Rivera spent 35 years behind bars. (Photo via El Diario)

Reactions to the presidential decision announced by the White House to commute the prison sentence of Puerto Rican pro-independence activist Oscar López Rivera were immediate.

Most of them highlight President Barack Obama’s benevolence but also recognize that commuting López Rivera’s sentence is a vindication. Elected officials and organizations advocating for civil rights celebrated the release of López Rivera, scheduled for May 17. The pro-independence activist spent 35 years in a federal prison, accused of sedition.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she was excited and happy after López Rivera’s commutation, a case in which she was particularly involved. She was overwhelmed with the presidential announcement.

“This is a case in which the punishment did not fit. Oscar López Rivera was not found guilty for participating in any actions involving physical harm, and guilt by association is not enough. That’s not what our justice system is based on. This was an unjust sentencing and it’s been 35 years of being in jail for his political convictions. Therefore, it was purely a political situation.”

Mark-Viverito, who frequently led actions demanding López Rivera’s release, added that the pro-independence activist spent too much time in prison.

“At first, he refused the pardon that President Clinton offered him because he did not offer it to all of them equally. But then they were all freed, and he was the only one who remained in jail, which was inhumane for so many reasons,” said the elected official, also born in Puerto Rico.

Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, stated: “There are only a few times that the people of Puerto Rico – on the island and in the diaspora – have showed solid, unifying strength and faith in collective action. In my lifetime, Vieques was one such episode. I am now lucky enough to see another beautiful chapter – the unconditional release of Oscar López Rivera.

“He was the last remaining Puerto Rican political prisoner and his grace and positive outlook is what I remember the most when I met him in the federal penitentiary last year. We are now able to look at President’s Obama legacy in a different light. For in freeing Oscar López Rivera in such a reconciliatory act, the president freed both the prisoner and the unjust system that kept him behind bars.”

Cartagena added that LatinoJustice PRLDEF, an organization that for years has advocated for Oscar’s release, expressed their “deepest gratitude to the president, to Oscar’s incredible lawyer, Jan Susler, to all the people who supported his release, and lastly, to Oscar López Rivera for never giving up hope.”

His supporters often compare López Rivera with Nelson Mandela, who was also involved in an armed political movement and who served a long prison sentence.

López Rivera has declared that he will no longer tolerate violence in the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence. However, he said that, if he ever came out of prison, he would do so with his head held high.

Puerto Rican artist René Pérez, of the music duo Calle 13, said on his Twitter account: “Puerto Rico, our ‘plantain stain’ comes from the same bunch. United as brothers and sisters, we did it.”

“I thank President Obama for taking this step, an act of magnanimous grace. I also want to thank all the activists, elected officials and ordinary Puerto Ricans who labored tirelessly to secure Oscar’s freedom,” said New York Democratic Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez.

“The news that President Obama is pardoning Oscar López is momentous for all Puerto Ricans,” added Velázquez. “At this time, when our beloved island has endured so much economic turmoil and hardship, the release of this gentle man is an important step of justice.  Oscar’s dignity and humanity has helped bring Puerto Ricans of all political orientations together, unifying our people.  His release, at long last, must be celebrated, and I am profoundly moved that he will, finally, be coming home.”

“Oscar López Rivera is a freedom fighter who fought for respect and dignity for our beloved Puerto Rico,” said José López, director of organizing for Make the Road New York. “Puerto Ricans across New York and the nation celebrate his pardon as the righting of a wrong that has afflicted our community for decades. We applaud President Obama for granting clemency to Mr. Rivera and we commit to continuing the fight for justice for Puerto Rico.”

Theater actor and director of Puerto Rican descent Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote on his Twitter account:

For his part, newly-appointed New York Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat also congratulated President Obama for his decision to commute Oscar López Rivera’s sentence.

“I commend President Barack Obama on today’s decision to pardon Oscar López Rivera. Mr. Lopez Rivera has spent the last 36 years of his life in federal prison. He has long served his time and, upon his release, will now be allowed to return home to be with his family, loved ones and a community that has remained loyal in support and calling for his release.”

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