“I don’t have any blood on my hands,” Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera wrote in February.
“I haven’t victimized anyone. And I’ve devoted most of my life serving a just and noble cause and struggling to help make this world a better and more just one.”
For 30 years, Lopez Rivera has been imprisoned in the United States for his activities in support of freedom and independence for Puerto Rico, which is still claimed by the US.
Lopez Rivera was arrested on May 29, 1981 and accused of seditious conspiracy. He was not accused of any specific acts of violence or causing any deaths.
He was sentenced to 70 years in prison.
On May 29, he will have served 30 years in prison ― 12 years in total isolation.
These harsh conditions have not broken Lopez Rivera’s spirit, which they were seemingly intended to do. He remains a strong and dignified man despite his ordeal.
On February 18, the US Parole Commission issued its decision in Lopez Rivera’s case, stating: “Deny parole. Continue to a 15-year reconsideration hearing in January 2026 or continue to expiration, whichever comes first.”
Then in early May, the US Parole Commission denied his appeal to reconsider the February 18 ruling denying parole. The commission justified its decision by assigning him responsibility for acts he was never accused nor convicted of.
The commission disregarded the evidence establishing that Lopez Rivera met all the criteria for parole and also overlooked its own rules in the process.
Lopez Rivera has the support of a broad section of Puerto Rico’s civil society, as well as the Puerto Rican and Latino communities in the US.
Lopez Rivera was not accused or convicted of causing injury or taking life. In 1999, then US president Bill Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists in jail.
Clinton said Lopez Rivera’s sentence was disproportionately lengthy and he should be released in 2009.
Other nationalist prisoners were released as a result of Clinton’s clemency offer and are productive citizens, fully integrated into society. The last of Lopez Rivera’s co-defendants, Carlos Alberto Torres, was released in July 2010.
The latest parole decision ignores the express will of the Puerto Rican people and those who believe in justice and human rights, including the tens of thousands of voices supporting his immediate release.
Among these many ignored voices are members of the United States Congress; the state legislatures of New York, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania; the city councils and county boards of many locales in the US and Puerto Rico; the mayors of many towns in the US and Puerto Rico, including the Association of Mayors of Puerto Rico; bar associations including the Puerto Rico Bar Association, the National Lawyers Guild and the American Association of Jurists; religious organisations, including the Ecumenical Coalition representing every religious denomination in Puerto Rico; and many other human rights advocates and community organisations.
The White House has recently proposed to initiate a process to resolve the status of Puerto Rico. A true process of self-determination under international law should be accompanied by the release of political prisoners.
The commission’s adverse decision is at odds with such an essential step towards a positive resolution.
The US government often demands that other governments, in order to establish their democratic credentials, release political prisoners in their custody. The ongoing imprisonment of Lopez Rivera reveals US hypocrisy.
He is now 68 years old. Another 15 years in prison is utterly cruel and excessive. It is time to end this gross injustice.
The National Boricua Human Rights Network is an organisation of Puerto Ricans in the US that campaigns for the release of Lopez Rivera.
Help publicise this cause and support the ongoing international campaign demanding the release of Lopez Rivera. For more information on Lopez Rivera and the campaign for his freedom, visit www.boricuahumanrights.org .