Only days remain for the public to ask for the United States Parole Commission to grant parole to a Puerto Rican independence activist who has now spent 29 years in a federal penitentiary in Florence, Colo., because of his actions in favor of the independence of Puerto Rico.
Oscar Lopez-Rivera, who was born in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico in 1943, but spent his young adulthood in Chicago.
In the 1970s, Lopez became involved in efforts to free Puerto Rico from U.S. domination by means of armed struggle. Lopez and his comrades justified armed struggle by arguing that Puerto Rico was illegally occupied by the United States during the so-called "Spanish-American War", and kept under control by armed force since then, making armed resistance legally and morally justifiable. These young "independentista" activists pointed to the many violent acts of the U.S. government and the island authorities toward the people of Puerto Rico as their evidence.
In 1981, Lopez and more than a dozen independence activists were convicted by a federal court of seditious conspiracy, armed robbery and other offenses in the prosecution of the FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation) organization. This organization, the government charged, had been responsible for a series of bombings in which five people were killed. The defendants challenged the right of U.S. courts to try them, and reasserted their claim to political prisoner status.
Lopez nor any of the other defendants in the FALN trial were accused, let alone convicted, of involvement in actions in which people lost their lives. At that time, the Puerto Rican independence movement was riddled with government agents provocateurs who tried to steer activists into dangerous adventurist tactics. But Lopez was sentenced to 70 years in federal prison and his associates to greater or lesser terms also.
In 1988, Lopez was given another 15 years for allegedly conspiring to escape, raising the total sentence to 85 years.
In 1999, President Clinton, who has said he considered the Puerto Rican political prisoners' sentences to be excessive, offered a deal to them; they would be conditionally released in exchange for their promise to desist from associating with people involved in radical pro-independence activities. Twelve people walked out of prison on this basis, but Lopez refused the offer because of the conditions.
Since then, human rights organizations and others, including every Puerto Rican member of Congress, have continued to petition for his release on parole.
In Puerto Rico, support for the release of Lopez has extended far beyond the pro-independence sector of public opinion. Javier Jimenez Perez, the mayor of Oscar Lopez's hometown of San Sebastian, is supporting the effort, in spite of being a member of the conservative pro-statehood current in island politics.
On January 5 of this year, Lopez had a parole hearing, but the hearing examiner did not recommend he be paroled.
However, the Parole Board will make its decision as to whether to uphold the examiner's recommendation or not as early as Tuesday, February 1.
The National Boricua Human Rights Network and others are calling for all people of good will to contact the Parole Board in the next days.
Information on how to do this, plus more background information on the case, can be found on the website of the National Boricua Human Rights Network, www.boricuahumanrights.org.
Photo: Oscar Lopez-Rivera (AP)