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  • Puerto Rican Oscar Lopez Rivera (C) carries a national flag as he meets with supporters after being released from house arrest May 17, 2017.

    Puerto Rican Oscar Lopez Rivera (C) carries a national flag as he meets with supporters after being released from house arrest May 17, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

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"I have said that the two most important things ... are to fight and to work hard at it."

Oscar Lopez Rivera discusses freedom before a public event welcoming him to the San Francisco Bay Area that brought together more than 700 people.

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Alicia Jrapko: Oscar, it has been just 14 days since you completed your sentence and yet you seemed to have injected a great deal of energy into the movement for the freedom of political prisoners and those who struggle for the sovereignty and independence of Puerto Rico. Did you expect this response or are you surprised?

Oscar Lopez: I’m surprised, it may have been just two weeks but in that time I have had a lot of experiences that I did not anticipate; encounters with many people, seeing things that I have not seen for a long time both positive and negative experiences. I was really shocked for example about the gentrification, depopulation and displacement going on. The houses that are being built in Puerto Rico are obviously for rich people and not for the Puerto Rican workers. There is so much emphasis on foreign investment instead of incentives for workers.

They invest in cruise ships and fishermen have almost nothing, there is no incentive for the ports. The brain drain is another thing that I found going on in Puerto Rico. And Alaska and Hawaii came to mind; which became states but not to favor their Indigenous people. In Alaska, it happens on the reservations where we see the destruction of the culture, the loss of love and their reason for being, life there loses value, and that has happened and can happen in Puerto Rico; they are the result of such policies which are a strategy of dehumanization.

I have found out firsthand about the threats against the education including universities. The Fiscal Control Board, that controls all public funds, has proposed a budgetary adjustment of $512 million. They are removing funds for universities, 169 public schools have closed. The privatization system they are trying to implement is expensive, and one has to work hard in order to pay for it. It pains me to see Puerto Rico without a future.

Now not everything is negative, the concept of colony for example is now clear without pretense. Before many people were not aware of the concept, but today we don’t have to convince anyone to be motivated to strive for the end of the colonization of Puerto Rico.

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I have said that the two most important things for that to happen is to fight and to work hard at it.

I invite all of those who love the Homeland to join in. The common denominator is the love of our country, and I believe that the majority of people in Puerto Rico do love the Homeland … I’m ready. I want to visit all the municipalities to listen and identify problems with people and strategize about the future.

For example, we can talk about projects of urban gardens, organic farming, cultivation, projects for the fishing industry. We have resources to develop the ecology, to create jobs, preserving the environment; there are sufficient elements to develop a viable and sustainable economy worthy of our people.

The other issue is that we need to give support to political prisoners in the United States, considering that many of them are old and in poor health. We must take into consideration that they could help a lot with their experiences and we need them on the outside. The release of political prisoners and their experiences can be a great benefit to youth. Among them we have the case of Ana Belén Montes, we should support all those who have sacrificed for just and noble causes.

Alicia Jrapko: There is a polarization that has developed around the National Puerto Rican Parade coming up on June 11 in New York. On the one side are the corporations and on the other, there is the Independentista movement and the Puerto Rican diaspora in general. Where do you think that the pressure to boycott it is coming from and why are they afraid of your presence there?

Oscar Lopez: For the first time in the history of the National Puerto Rican Parade they are using the case of a political prisoner who was accused of many things, but sentenced to charges that did not involve any violence, blood or death. They were unable to associate me with terrorism. Corporations such as Goya, the New York Yankees, JetBlue, etc. can do whatever they want, they can remove their financial support for the parade but what they cannot do is dictate to the organizers of the parade what to do. This parade is very important, participants are not only Puerto Ricans who live in New York, or that come from Puerto Rico, people come from many cities within the United States and they even come from other countries. The parade is organized to raise the consciousness of Puerto Rican culture, and it is an event that is committed to improving the lives of the Puerto Ricans.

Corporations have no right to deny them the right to invite me, which is the prerogative of the organizers and not the corporations. They are using me personally to attack the parade and those responsible for this adventure are the elite of Puerto Rico who have been playing the game with those who have the real power.  They say that we the freedom fighters (Independentistas) hate Americans, we don’t hate Americans.

My family, for example, is three generations of Puerto Ricans born in the United States but they love the Puerto Rican Homeland, even though they make their lives here. How could it be possible for me to hate my own family? Not only the Americans but for example with the Chicanos (people of Mexican descent born in the United States) we have had similar struggles and some victories together.

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But this was never done with any hatred but with love. They spread this dirty propaganda to mislead the people. The pressure comes from the party of settlers (colons), who have called for a plebiscite that is not popular in Puerto Rico, but will also cost millions of dollars and they are using the parade of New York to distract people.

With the crisis that exists in Puerto Rico, they are using all this money for a plebiscite but at the same time close schools and undermine support for universities. That money is not theirs, it belongs to the people. It is sad some people play into the game.

Alicia Jrapko: What is your message to the people of Latin America who are fighting against a reactionary counteroffensive that seeks to reverse the achievements reached in recent years?

Oscar Lopez: I had the opportunity to talk with President Maduro and told him that all Puerto Ricans who love Puerto Rico are with him. The problem in Latin America is U.S. interference. In Venezuela since 1998 until now and for the last 19 years they have been trying to undo what has been achieved, it is no accident.

The interference in Latin America started a long time ago. Just a few examples that come to mind; the 1848 invasion into Mexico, in 1856 Walker usurped the Presidency of Nicaragua, in 1954 they orchestrated a coup in Guatemala to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz. Panama also suffered interference, and the history is repeating itself today. We must not allow the intervention of the United States into Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil to advance. Interference hurts everyone. In Puerto Rico we have been colonized for 119 years. My message is keep on fighting, love your people, we have many human resources in Latin America to build countries worthy of their populations. We must have the courage to fight to our last drop of force.

Alicia Jrapko: Can you explain what it meant to you to share a cell with Fernando González, one of the Cuban Five, in the Terre Haute Penitentiary? Also we know that the Cuban people are eagerly awaiting your upcoming visit to their island, how is it that the independence of Puerto Rico holds such a special place in the heart of the Cuban people?

Oscar Lopez: With respect to Fernando, the four years I shared with him were the best of all the difficult years I spent in prison. It is not easy to find compatible people with whom to share the cell, and with Fernando we had many things in common. For example we both enjoyed reading and the two of us were both into exercise. And of course our ideals were the same, the two of us were struggling for noble and just causes. With Fernando we shared a lot of happy moments, even celebrations, like when we would prepare some food and invite other prisoners to share, etc. I have very pleasant memories of our time in prison.

About my visit to Cuba, I am really looking forward to go there. Cuba and Puerto Rico are two wings of the same bird, we are the two countries that are more alike, we share the love for freedom and justice, we are happy people, we have fought together, and historically Cuba has always given us their solidarity. I want to go to Cuba to share with the Cuban people and express my gratitude for their solidarity, not just toward me, but their solidarity for the independence of our beloved Homeland.

This article was first published by Resumen Latinoamericano. Alicia Jrapko is a long-time social activist who worked tirelessly to free the Cuban 5, speaking and writing on Cuba in both the U.S. and internationally.

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