After spending over 36 years behind bars, Puerto Rican independence hero Oscar Lopez Rivera is finally free and the Puerto Rican people can celebrate a historic victory.
Lopez Rivera, now 74 years old, was released in Puerto Rico Wednesday, officially making him the longest-held political prisoner in the U.S. from Latin America.
Lopez Rivera was arrested in 1981 by the FBI and charged with “seditious conspiracy," for being a militant independence fighter.
During his trial, Lopez Rivera and other members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation told the court their actions were part of an anti-colonial war against the U.S., declaring themselves prisoners of war and requesting that their cases be handed over to an international court.
The U.S. did not recognize Lopez's demand and sentenced him to 55 years in prison. After an alleged attempt to escape, the sentence was increased to 70 years in prison, 12 of which he spent in solitary confinement.
Today, Puerto Rico is still plagued by many of the U.S.-imposed problems that Lopez Rivera fought against before he was jailed, namely economic and political hegemony. Most notably, forced payment of the US$73 billion debt “owed” to Wall Street creditors, which is being enforced through Washington-led austerity.
The results are devastating.
University budgets are being slashed. Hospitals are shutting down. Food prices are going up. Transportation prices are skyrocketing.
The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, the institution carrying out these acts of austerity, has become the modern day symbol of U.S. colonization on the Caribbean island. It was set up last year through the contentious PROMESA law that gained bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress as a plan to “save” Puerto Rico from its imposed debt crisis.
But as the old saying goes, where there is oppression, there is resistance.
Revolutionary groups like the Boricua Popular Army, better known as Los Macheteros, are mobilizing Puerto Ricans against voting in favor of statehood in an upcoming referendum on its territorial status. The referendum, to be held on June 11, will ask voters for the option of statehood or for independence/free association. If the majority of people vote for independence/free association, a second referendum will take place in October to choose the country’s political status.
Dozens of other progressive anti-colonial groups are backing the Macheteros’ call for mass resistance to statehood.
Puerto Ricans are also mobilizing on the streets against U.S.-imposed oppression.
Since April 6, students from the Rio Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico have held a campus-wide strike in repudiation of proposed education budget cuts amounting to US$450 million by 2021.
In addition to opposing the multi-million dollar education cut proposed by the financial board, students are also demanding an audit of the US$73 billion debt owed to wealthy vulture funds.
Thousands of Puerto Rican workers, students and others took to the streets in a national strike in the early hours of International Workers’ Day. The mass mobilization was held to protest against the harsh austerity measures pummeling the island and the controversial federal control board managing its economy.
Despite the fact that many of the problems Lopez Rivera fought against throughout his youth are still affecting Puerto Rico, the mass organizations that succeeded him and were largely inspired by him are carrying out his struggle today.
Today’s fight against U.S.-imposed austerity in Puerto Rico is an evolved form of Lopez Rivera’s fight alongside the FALN against U.S. imperialism in the 1970s. And now that the Puerto Rican independence hero will finally be able to roam his homeland freely, both generations of the revolutionary movement can come together as one, learning and growing from one another.