We Have Freed Oscar López Rivera: President Obama Responds to Clamor for Freedom

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On Tuesday, January 17, just days before he relinquishes executive power, President Obama granted clemency to Oscar López Rivera, Puerto Rico’s national hero. Oscar has spent 35 years in prison, 12 of which were in solitary confinement, for his militant participation in Puerto Rico’s anti-colonial independence movement. He is to be released in 120 days, more than six years before his release date. Upon release, Oscar will visit Chicago for a historic community celebration and then travel to his homeland. Over the past several weeks, rumors that Oscar would be released began to surface, but there was no definitive indication coming from the White House. The first to receive news of Oscar’s clemency was Jan Susler, his legendary lawyer, who received a call from the Department of Justice. Shortly after, word went viral andbegan to draw media coverage from around the world. From Chicago to New York to San Juan to all over Latin America, Oscar’s clemency caused a flood of tears and expressions of joy. On Paseo Boricua, community members and family members of Oscar, including his brother José E. López, executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, gathered at Urban Theater Company. Hoisting flags and signs, those present chanted in Oscar’s honor, as news reporters spoke to family and supporters. Obama’s offer of clemency places him in the company of U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In 1979, President Carter released Puerto Rican nationalists Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores, Andrés Figueroa Cordero, and Oscar Collazo, whose death sentence was commuted by President Truman. In 1999, President Clinton’s clemency offer led to the release of Edwin Cortes, Elizam Escobar, Ricardo Jiménez, Adolfo Matos, Dylcia Noemi Pagan, Alicia Rodríguez, Ida Luz Rodríguez, Luis Rosa, Carmen Valentín, Alberto Rodríguez, Alejandrina Torres, Juan Enrique Segarra-Palmer. In each of these cases, it was years of hard work and struggle that freed these freedom fighters. Throughout these almost five decades, Chicago’s Puerto Rican community has been pivotal. As in previous cases, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and its supporters were intimately involved in the international campaign to free Oscar. Support for his freedom took many forms: petitions, tweets, marches, civil disobedience, presentations at international forums, fundraising, plays, cultural events, press conferences, phone calls to the White House, and efforts to gain the endorsement of high-profile people, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, René Pérez (Residente), and Bernie Sanders. In this final phase of the campaign for Oscar, longstanding advocates like Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín, and Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito were particularly instrumental. Among Oscar and 207 others, President Obama also granted clemency to Chelsea Manning, a whistleblower that exposed U.S. military atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. by Michael Rodriguez Muñiz, National Boricua Human Rights Network, Chicago Chapter