Oscar López Rivera Lives in Hope of an Obama Pardon

Oscar Lopez Rivera with his daughter Clarissa López Ramos (left) and his granddaughter, Karina Valentín. (Photo provided to El Diario)

Oscar Lopez Rivera with his daughter Clarissa López Ramos (left), and his granddaughter, Karina Valentín.
(Photo provided to El Diario)

On May 30, hundreds marched in El Barrio demanding the release of Puerto Rican Oscar López Rivera, the 72-year-old political prisoner who has spent 34 years in prison on sedition charges. [He is currently in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana.] Soon after, El Diario published an exclusive interview him. Below are some excerpts from his interview with reporter María Peña:

Peña: Have you followed the events this past weekend [May 30-31] demanding your release?

López Rivera: I made some phone calls so I could learn about what was happening in Puerto Rico and New York. I was given a “play by play” of the walk in Puerto Rico, and the New York march. In Puerto Rico they walked under the rain, almost celebrating the rain, and I could hear the slogans. I also talked with several of the women who meet in Puerto Rico (every last Sunday of the month) to support me.

I know that there are presidents, several Nobel prize winners and religious groups in this movement. This is something very beautiful, very emotional for me. Those are very important efforts for which I’m profoundly grateful.

P: What has been the most difficult part of life in prison?

L.R.: Being in prison is never easy but I have health, good energy and good vibes. The hardest part for me has been to maintain family ties at a distance. Also, the separation from the people, because I always worked with the community and that was something I really enjoyed.

Prison is a hostile environment, it’s dehumanizing and it slowly takes away your human fiber, but I fight not to be institutionalized: I keep a daily routine, a busy schedule, because I don’t want to give my time to the jailers. I read a lot – reading, that’s a sacred time – I draw, I write letters, I exercise, and I am also keeping my family ties, and with people outside.

P: Do you keep in touch with your family?

L.R.: I stay in close contact with my daughter, with my family. Almost every day we communicate over the phone or via email.

For 12 years and 4 months [when he was in solitary confinement], I could only have two 15-minute calls per month, and it was very expensive for my daughter to travel from Puerto Rico to visit me where I was. The communication with my mother, with my family, was very limited. My granddaughter was 7 when I was able to embrace her for the first time.

P: Do you think President Obama will pardon you before leaving office?

L.R.: I live on hope, I’ve never lost it. If (Obama) believes in justice, if he pays attention and studies my case closely, he may grant clemency.

President Bill Clinton did so, but I did not accept the offer (in 1999) for two reasons: First, because when he offered it he excluded many of my colleagues and I don’t leave anyone behind. And, second, because it was a conditional release.

P: What is the first thing you are going to do when you come back to [your native] San Sebastián?

L.R.: I don’t like illusory optimism, but the first thing will be to kiss my land. I have been out of my town for a long time. I miss my family, but I also miss rice with gandules (pigeon peas), tostones (fried plantains)… ah, and avocado.

I also want to work on some long-term projects. I would like to work on the unity of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora. We should not see ourselves as two separate groups, the 3.5 million in Puerto Rico and the 5 million in the U.S., but as one force, because we have a big, compassionate heart and we must nurture it.

I would also like to work on education programs, on reaching achievable goals to increase our confidence as a people.

P: You have been compared to the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. He experienced a transformation while in prison. What has been yours?

L.R.: I can live with a clear conscience. I’m a war veteran, I was in Vietnam, and I consider human life sacred. I condemn the death penalty, how could I support violence?

We need to put into context Mandela’s struggle against the racist regime, what he did and his evolution while in prison for 27 years before being released in the 1990s. He made a radical change (abandoning the armed struggle), but he also fought for the rights of the black population… The government eventually gave in to the pressure.

I can give the example of the Vieques struggle. The Puerto Rican people managed to kick the U.S. Marines out of Puerto Rico without resorting to violence, and I think that indicates that there has been a change.

(…)

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