Shortly before completing his term in office, former U.S. President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Puerto Rican independence fighter Oscar López Rivera on January 17, 2017; following a strong international campaign for his release, according to PL.
López Rivera was born in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico in 1943, and at 14 years of age moved to the U.S. city of Chicago with his family. Later, he was drafted into the army to fight in the war against Vietnam for which he was awarded the Bronze Star, reports Puerto Rican newspaper, El Nuevo Día.
In 1976 he joined the struggle for his country’s independence, fighting hard to defend his compatriots’ right to freedom and sovereignty as a member of the clandestine National Liberation Armed Forces.
In 1981 his activism saw him arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FIB) accused of “seditious conspiracy” against the U.S. government in the Free Associated State of Puerto Rico.
Rivera declared himself a prisoner of war under the 1949 Geneva Convention, which recognizes the right to struggle against colonial occupation.
His petition was rejected by the U.S. government and he was sentenced to 55 years in prison on August 11, 1981, and sent to Leavenworth maximum security penitentiary, in the state of Kansas.
In the 1980s he was transferred to another prison in Illinois, after being convicted of planning to escape from Leavenworth, a conspiracy which Rivera stated was devised by the government. The conviction saw another 15 years added to his original sentence, according to TeleSUR.
López Rivera was later offered clemency by former U.S. President William Clinton in 1999, which the activist declined, serving a total of 36 years before he was finally released on May 17, 2017.
Many global figures, such as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and Puerto Rican band Calle 13 and singer Andy Montañez, called for his release.
The Cuban government and people also supported efforts to free the anti-colonial activist. Fernando González LLort, decorated Hero of the Republic of Cuba and current President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), shared a cell with Oscar for a time, while they were both imprisoned, and led the campaign for the Puerto Rican activist’s release after returning to Cuba.
López Rivera was moved from prison in February 2017 to serve the final months of his sentence under house arrest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, before being officially released on May 17, 2017.
In June of this year, López Rivera denounced the impact and legacy of colonialism on his country during a session by the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization.
The Puerto Rican activist is set to visit Cuba this November, in order to thank the Cuban people and government for their support in securing his release.