May 29 was the anniversary of Puerto Rican freedom fighter, Oscar Lopez’ imprisonment by the US government. He was convicted of “seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States in Puerto Rico”, and sentenced to 70 years in prison, without committing a single act of violence or violating anyone’s rights or stealing anyone’s property. All he and his comrades wanted was an end to the occupation of their country by the US.
The “seditious conspiracy” law was used before and during the American Civil War against Southerners attempting to secede from the Union. After the war, all convicted of that crime were freed. Since then, the law was never used again until 1937, when they used it again for the first time, against Pedro Albizu Campos, another Puerto Rican nationalist. Since then, the law has only been used against Puerto Rican activists seeking end to the occupation. Since the US government considers Puerto Rico its legitimate possession, any attempt to liberate it from its annexation is met with heavy sentences. And they claim to have a non-political judicious system!
At his trial in 1980-81, López and his comrades were not tied to any bombings or murders or even attempted murders. In fact, they were not convicted of any real crime. Their only crime was the “conspiracy” to liberate their homeland from US occupation which makes the conviction purely political. How else can you liberate a nation from an occupying colonial power other than attempting to “overthrow” the occupying force in your country? With that logic, the founders of the US who fought against the British colonialism were all criminals deserving 70 year sentences.
Oscar Lopez and his comrades correctly declared themselves prisoners of war when arrested and refused to recognize US kangaroo court of injustice and instead called for an international court to review their case. The US government of course dismissed their claim and request.
According to Luis Nieves Falcón, a renowned Puerto Rican lawyer and professor emeritus of University of Puerto Rico and editor of the just-released book of Oscar’s letters and reflections titled “Oscar López Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance”, “he was not accused of killing anybody. He was not accused of placing any bombs. He was not accused of maiming anybody. He was accused of being associated with an organization [FALN] that favored using all means at their disposal to get rid of colonialism in Puerto Rico”.
“When you compare, for example, the sentence that’s imposed on him with those imposed on other convictions, like rapists and murderers, all those convictions were much, much less than the one imposed on Oscar López Rivera”.
According to Mr. Falcón who visited him in jail, he was kept in a tiny six by nine, underground cell, all painted white, illuminated 24 hours a day, in solitary confinement, for 12 years and subjected to abuse, including continuous sleep deprivation. The cell did not have a bed, just a concrete slab that was too small to lie down on and a toilet. All he could do was sit. Not only he was subjected to sleep and movement deprivation, he was also deprived of any communication. The guards were not allowed to speak to him, ever, not even a single word!
Who does that? What kind of government does that? How do they sleep at night?
Oscar Lopez is among the longest serving political prisoners in the world. He’s been in prison for 32 years – since he was 38; he’s now 70 – more than half of that time in solitary confinement, and authorities want to keep him in prison for another 30. And for what?
In 1999, Bill Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican political prisoners, including Lopez, but he rejected the offer because it excluded two of his comrades. Is that the kind of person you want to keep in jail? In retaliation, the US government refuses to release him, even long after releasing the two for whom Oscar Lopez gave up his freedom. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa who knows a thing or two about resistance against colonialism, as well as a few other Nobel Peace Prize laureates, have written to Obama, himself a Nobel Peace Prize awardee (what the hell for?) requesting his release, but, our first black President ignores their request.
In 1988, he was charged with conspiracy to escape and was given additional 15 years. In 1998, he was transferred to Federal Correctional Facility in Terra Haute, Indiana, and put in with murderers, rapists and other violent criminals where he still remains.
There have been reports of prison guards sexually assaulting Puerto Rican political prisoners. Conditions have been found to be in violation of UN “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners”. In 2006, the UN asked the US government to free all remaining Puerto Rican political prisoners. Both Bush and Obama have ignored the UN request, as well.
Puerto Rico is a separate nation with its own separate Spanish speaking people, their own culture, history and national identity and was forcibly occupied and annexed to the United States. These men are our brothers fighting for what we ourselves would have fought for.
What kind of government would free Marines who break into Iraqi homes in Haditha, in the middle of the night and execute two dozen unarmed men, women and children – mostly children – and jails someone who did nothing, but tried to liberate his occupied country?
How do they sleep at night? And how do we for standing by and doing nothing about it?