In his first hours of freedom after 36 years behind bars in US prison, Puerto Rican independence leader Oscar Lopez Rivera vowed on May 17 to continue to fight for freedom and independence while expressing solidarity with progressive movements across the Americas.
“During the years I was jailed I always thought I would return home,” Lopez said during a press conference, thanking all the progressive organisations and world leaders who supported him and worked for his release over the years.
“I come here to fight and work, that’s what I know how to do,” Lopez Rivera said. “We can make Puerto Rico the nation that it has the potential to be.”
Lopez Rivera spoke out about the harsh austerity policies currently rocking the island in the face of a crippling debt crisis, stressing the importance of funding public education and applauding Puerto Rican students for being on the front lines of the struggle to defend education and resist colonial relations with Washington.
“Unity will make decolonisation possible, there is no other option,” Lopez Rivera said. "Loving our country doesn’t cost anything — what will cost us is to lose it."
Lopez Rivera also thanked Venezuela and all "those who defend the Bolivarian Revolution" and called for the US to end its interference in the nation.
"I ask the US to stop interfering in Venezuela, to stop using people and structures to reach countries and create a hostile environment with violence, and to have people lose because in the end it’s the people who lose.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was the first world leader to talk to Lopez Rivera and told him in a phone call on May 17 that he wanted to thank the activist for his strength and kindness in his struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.
Lopez Rivera, in return, thanked Maduro for his support throughout the long process of waiting for his freedom.
“I feel Puerto Rican, but I also feel Venezuelan,” Lopez Rivera said to the president. “The truth of Venezuela will prevail, we are sure it will prevail, we hope the US can't do what it has in mind and what it aspires to do.”
Lopez Rivera also criticised the financial oversight board put in place last year by US Congress through the controversial law known as PROMESA to restructure the island's debt.
He said that nothing that comes out of the oversight board — which has been widely criticised for undermining Puerto Rico's democracy and deepening colonialism — will be good for the island nation since it promotes sweeping privatisation and gives benefits to international companies instead of small farmers in the country.
"They made us their guinea pig to do experiments and make us poorer," he said.
Lopez Rivera's daughter Clarisa Lopez Ramos thanked the worldwide support for her father and for the fight to protect the island's main public post-secondary education institution, the 70,000-student University of Puerto Rico, as it faces massive cuts as part of a harsh austerity plan to tackle the island's massive debt load.
“The daughters and sons of Oscar are the students at the University of Puerto Rico, resisting and fighting,” said Lopez Ramos, referring to the student movements that have launched strikes and other actions to protest the cuts.
Lopez Rivera returned to the island in February to serve out the final weeks before his freedom on house arrest after former President Barack Obama commuted his sentence in January.
[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]