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  • A group of supporters march to call for Oscar Lopez Rivera

    A group of supporters march to call for Oscar Lopez Rivera's freedom in New York, June 8, 2017. | Photo: EFE

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Puerto Rico's independence leader and longest held political prisoner in the U.S. from Latin America will be freed from jail on May 17.

Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar Lopez Rivera arrived on the island nation Thursday after over 35 years in jail in the United States ahead of his long-awaited freedom on May 17.

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His American Airlines flight landed in the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport near San Juan at 4:36 p.m. Lopez, escorted by U.S. and Puerto Rico law enforcement officers, was seen handcuffed wearing a red shirt and a white cap. He was escorted from the second level of the airport into a white law enforcement van that drove him to his new home confinement at his daughter's residence.

The daughter of Oscar Lopez Rivera, Clarisa Lopez; the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto; Jan Susler, Lopez’s lawyer; and U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez held a press conference later in the evening at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico.

Susler laid out the conditions for his home confinement: a low profile, meaning no interviews or public appearances until he is set free on May 17 at 8 a.m.; reporting in and being monitored constantly; no association with anyone with a criminal record, including others who have been incarcerated by the U.S. for fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico; and other conditions which the legal team is still becoming acquainted with.

Lopez's daughter, Clarissa, said that it was hard to leave her home where she had just left her dad, but that it was her duty to the Puerto Rican people to talk about her father.

She also asked the Puerto Rican people "to help in the process of my father's adjustment and integration into his new life ... he was in solitary confinement ... it will be a slow process. I never want to have to visit my father in prison again. My dad has finally returned home, where he should have been all along."

She reiterated the conditions that her father is under and added, "Let's savor the moment, and then on May 17 we'll have the big party."

Mady Pacheco, who brought her 4-year-old niece to the airport told AP, "They wanted to deprive him of a hero's welcome ... I wanted her to witness this historic moment ... I want her to learn how to appreciate a man who sacrificed his freedom for our people."

New York State Assemblymember Jose Rivera confirmed on his Facebook page in the morning the transfer of Lopez, writing, "Family, after many years of struggle for Oscar Lopez Rivera, he is in the airport on route to Puerto Rico."

The transfer came after outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama commuted Lopez' sentence in January days before President Donald Trump was inaugurated.

According to Puerto Rico's El Vocero, prison authorities transferred Lopez Rivera from the Terre Haute penitentiary in Indiana, where the activist spent about two-thirds of his more than 30-year jail term, to his daughter's home in Puerto Rico, where he will spend the final days before his sentence expires.

Public figures including artists and activists celebrated Lopez Rivera's return on social media.

"Today one of the children of the cane fields returns," Puerto Rican rapper Rene Perez, also known as Residente, the lead singer of Calle 13, wrote on his Twitter account. "Welcome home Oscar Lopez Rivera."

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Lopez Rivera was born in Puerto Rico in 1943 and later moved to the United States. After being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War and returning to Chicago, Lopez Rivera joined the struggle for Puerto Rican rights. In 1976, he joined the fight for Puerto Rican independence as a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, also known as FALN.

He was arrested in 1981 and charged with “seditious conspiracy” for his role in a variety of FALN activities. During his trial, Lopez Rivera and other FALN activists 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. That request was denied, and Lopez Rivera was eventually sentenced to 55 years in prison — a sentence almost 20 times longer than those handed down for similar offenses.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton offered Lopez Rivera a pardon in 1999, but the activist rejected it in an act of solidarity with other Puerto Rican activists who had not been offered clemency and because he refused to publicly renounce the right of colonized peoples to resist through armed struggle.

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