The Puerto Rican Struggle and the Plight of Political Prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera

Steven Katsineris with a piece written in 2011 and which featured in the Guardian (Communist Party of Australia paper)  on 2 February 2011. It was part of his ongoing activity aimed at securing the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera. Steven Katsineris is an Australian freelance writer of articles on Palestine, Cyprus and the rest of the Middle East region, political prisoners and human rights, environmental and social issues. He has been actively involved in the Palestine solidarity movement for over forty years. Steven Katsineris lives with his family in Melbourne, Australia.

Puerto Rico, has been under U.S. control since 1898. Puerto Rico has been a colony for 500 years, first of Spain and then for the next 112 years of the United States. In 1898, at the end of the Spanish-American War, Spain was forced to cede the island nation to the United States. No one consulted with the people of Puerto Rico. The U.S. military declared martial law, installed a U.S. governor and began a program to alter and destroy the character of Puerto Rico. Over the years, the U.S. destroyed Puerto Rico's agrarian economy; devalued its money; imposed citizenship on its people to facilitate drafting its men into the U.S. army to fight the U.S.' wars; imposed the teaching of the English language and U.S. history on its students; polluted its air, land, and water; sterilized its women; and installed 21 U.S. military bases on some of the best land. 
International law denounces colonialism as a crime and recognizes a colonized people's right to end colonialism by any means at their disposal. The United Nations recognizes that these laws apply to the case of Puerto Rico. For many years now, the United Nations' De-colonization Committee has approved resolutions recognizing the inalienable right of Puerto Rico's people to independence and self-determination.

Puerto Ricans have continually resisted. For instance, the local inhabitants of the island of Vieques and militants across Puerto Rico waged a long struggle against the U.S. Navy's use of the small island for target practice and military training. These protests increased in 1999 when a bomb killed a civilian employee of the US Navy, David Sanes, during a military exercise on Vieques.

A wide range of celebrities were involved in the campaign, including political leaders Ruben Berrios, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Al Sharpton, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, singers Danny Rivera and Ricky Martin, boxer Félix 'Tito' Trinidad, writers Ana Lydia Vega and Giannina Braschi and Guatemala's Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú.

As a result of this campaign of civil disobedience, in May 2003 the Navy withdrew from Vieques, and much of the island was designated a National Wildlifew Refuge.

The resistance, whether the mere advocacy of independence or the taking up arms against the colonizer, has been censored and criminalized, punished throughout the years by harassment, surveillance, imprisonment, and even summary execution. The examples are numerous.

Ever since the FBI was officially founded in 1935, it has regarded any and all opposition to U.S. sovereignty with suspicion. According to the FBI's own estimates, from 1936 to 1995, agents collected between 1.5 and 1.8 million pages of intelligence on organizations and individuals advocating independence.

The criminalization of the Puerto Rican independence movement in the late 1970s forced many prominent leaders underground and, to many, reinforced the idea that independence could not be achieved through diplomatic means. Ultimately, repression fomented radical resistance. Several covert attacks, mostly targeting property owned by the U.S. government, followed.

In 1978, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) --a clandestine pro-independence group operating in the US-- was designated by the FBI as one of the most significant threats to the security of the United States. Between 1980 and 1983, 14 alleged members of the FALN were arrested, accused of seditious conspiracy, and sentenced to prison terms between 50 and 90 years.

The Puerto Rican Political Prisoners were apart of two of these clandestine organizations; as Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN) and Los Macheteros. Their arrests and subsequent imprisonment correspond to a planned effort by the FBI to destroy their organizations and repress their activities.

In 2000, per his request, the bureau began handing over selected files to Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies has been sorting and releasing select contents. Among them is a 1961 memo from then-Director J. Edgar Hoover, initiating Cointelpro activities against the movement and its leaders. The memo orders agents to begin collecting information on independence leaders so as to "disrupt their activities and compromise their effectiveness."

A U.S. Senate committee in 1975 found the program "imposed summary punishment, not only on the allegedly violent, but also on the nonviolent advocates of change."

In 1977, the FBI began employing a new tactic of intimidation against independentistas: the grand jury subpoena. According to Michael Deutsch of the People's Law Office, resistance to the subpoenas was organized and unwavering. Activists saw the grand juries, he wrote, as "an illegal instrument of colonial authority whose powers of inquisition they must resist." For refusing to comply with more than 20 grand jury subpoenas, scores of pro-independence activists spent anywhere from four to 18 months in jail.

It is also an effort that led it to target New Yorkers affiliated with the Puerto Rican independence struggle. Three of those people -- social worker Christopher Torres, graphic designer Tania Frontera and filmmaker Julio Antonio Pabón Jr. were recently handed subpoenas by the FBI/NYPD and were ordered to testify before a grand jury in Feb. Torres and Frontera were both supporters of the successful struggle to force the U.S. Navy off the island of Vieques.

In 1981, Oscar Lopez Rivera, an activist and campaigner for Puerto Rican independence, was arrested by the FBI, allegeding he was an Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) leader. Initially sentenced to 55 years, on “seditious conspiracy” charges, after prosecutors couldn’t get him on any other charges. A further 15 years were added in 1988, based on spurious charges of participating in an escape conspiracy.

In 1999, the Clinton administration offered him and 11 other Puerto Rican nationalists clemency. He declined, saying it required him to serve 10 more years with good conduct. Had he accepted, he'd be free. His sister, Zenaida Lopez, said he refused because on parole, he'd be in "prison outside prison."

Recently, the U.S. Parole Commission’s examiner, convened a hearing to review the request of Oscar López Rivera, 67 years old, for release on parole. A seven-page Chicago US Attorney Patrick Firzgerald political diatribe against Rivera was introduced, listing unrelated acts and unsupported conclusions.On January 5, a US Parole Commission recommended he remain in prison and serve another 12 to15 years before parole reconsideration.

Defense attorney Jan Susler argued that he met the criteria for release and stressed the Clinton administration's determination that his sentence was disproportionately long, that he was offered clemency and that released political prisoners become productive, fully integrated citizens.

The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation has for decades repeatedly condemned Puerto Rico's status and called on the U.S. to return occupied land, release political prisoners and allow Puerto Ricans the right of self-determination and independence. Many Puerto Ricans have called for the same thing. A spectrum of organizations and political parties are currently promoting independence. Puerto Rico's colonial reality cannot be ignored.

The National Boricua Human Rights Network (NBHRN) continues working for Oscar’s release through petitions, phone messages, elected officials, religious and community leaders, and enlisting other activist supporters for justice. He was wrongfully incarcerated in the first place and since then victimized like hundreds of other US political prisoners. 

Free Oscar Lopez Rivera! Support the Puerto Rican National Liberation Struggle!


  1. Should criminals be in charge of correcting the wrong they inflicted?

    Puerto Ricans vote in elections every 4 years at an 80% level of participation. Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States (US) government for the past 116 years. If the US government has the final say in what happens in Puerto Rico, what is the purpose of these elections? The purpose is to fool the world that Puerto Rico is a democracy.

    The United Nations (UN) declared colonialism a crime against humanity in 1960. The UN has asked the US government 33 times to decolonize Puerto Rico immediately. The US government has refused. It says that Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the United States is none of the UN’s business. The US says that it is a domestic affair.

    To appear that the US government wants to decolonize Puerto Rico, it promotes the use of plebiscites to determine what Puerto Ricans want. Doesn’t that sounds innocent and democratic? So what’s the problem?

    To begin with, the international community already rendered its verdict and determined that colonialism is illegal. So to have a political status option in a plebiscite that favors maintaining Puerto Rico a colony of the United States is not permitted. To have a political status option of Puerto Rico becoming a state of the United States is also not permitted under international law. The problem goes back to the beginning of this article. In order to have free elections, the country must be free. So before these elections and plebiscite could be valid, Puerto Rico would have to first be an independent nation.

    What people must realize is that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US because the US government wants it that way. That is why it has used terrorism to keep it that way. That is why it refuses to release the Puerto Rican political prisoner of 33 years Oscar López Rivera. That is also why it is ridiculous to believe that decolonization is a US internal matter in which the UN has no jurisdiction over. If we allow the US government to decolonize Puerto Rico, she will remain a colony of the United States forever!

    José M López Sierra

  2. La Segunda Marcha Oscar – Mandela en Nueva York 2015

    Tendremos nuestra 2da Marcha Oscar – Mandela en Nueva York el lunes, 22 de junio de 2015. Empezaremos a marchar pacíficamente a las 9 AM desde Hunter College, en la calle 68 y Avenida Lexington, hasta la Calle 43. Haremos una izquierda para continuar marchando en dirección Este para llegar al parque Ralph Bunche (al otro lado de la Organización de Naciones Unidas).

    Allí, repartiremos hojas sueltas para orientar al público sobre nuestro prisionero político Oscar Lopez Rivera y la relación colonial ente el gobierno de Estados Unidos y Puerto Rico. Estaremos en el parque hasta las 5 PM.

    La mayoría de la gente no sabe que, todos los años, usualmente el lunes después del Día de los Padres, la Organización de Naciones Unidas (ONU) celebra una vista para discutir la descolonización de Puerto Rico. Los peticionarios usualmente se unen a nuestra protesta después que terminan sus ponencias.

    La ONU determinó en el 1960, que el colonialismo es un crimen en contra de la humanidad. Desde entonces, la ONU ha emitido 33 resoluciones pidiéndole al gobierno de Estados Unidos (EEUU) que descolonice inmediatamente a Puerto Rico. EEUU ha ignorado esta voluntad de la comunidad internacional. ¿Qué tipo de democracia es eso?

    El gobierno de Estados Unidos trata de mantener nuestra relación colonial la más secreta posible. Lo que nosotros estamos tratando de hacer es sacarla del closet. La ONU está en su tercera década tratando de erradicar el colonialismo del mundo. ¡Por favor, ayudemos!

    La mayoría de gente tampoco no sabe que el Gobierno de Estados Unidos le saca 14 veces más dinero de lo que invierte en Puerto Rico. ¡Pero, para eso son las colonias!

    Esta explotación salvaje le impide a Puerto Rico ofrecerle oportunidades a los puertorriqueños en Puerto Rico. Por eso es que tenemos más puertorriqueños afuera de su isla que adentro.

    Oscar López Rivera ha estado encarcelado por 34 años por su lucha para descolonizar a su país. Por ser un crimen (el colonialismo), la ley internacional le da a Oscar el derecho de usar todo los medios necesarios para descolonizar a su nación. Nelson Mandela estuvo 27 años encarcelado por hacer exactamente lo mismo que Oscar. Por eso decimos, ¡Oscar López Rivera es nuestro Nelson Mandela!

    Compañeros Unidos para la Descolonización de Puerto Rico invita al público a ser parte del tsunami de gente que será necesario para obligar al gobierno de Estados Unidos a excarcelar a Oscar y a descolonizar a Puerto Rico. ¡Nuestras protestas anuales son absolutamente necesarias porque, los que mantienen colonias no creen en la justicia para todos!

    José M López Sierra,