At the 4th International Conference for the Balance of the World,Oscar López Rivera called for Latin American unity to build support for Puerto Rico’s independence struggle. Photo: Ariel Cecilio Lemus Alvarez

Puerto Rico’s demand for independence was reaffirmed by the patriot Oscar López Rivera recently, insisting that this is the inalterable demand of the island’s people.

In statements to Granma International, he noted that the only path forward for his homeland is independence, and an end to the U.S. protectorate.

He cited, as another other important issue in the struggle, the elimination of Puerto Rico’s exorbitant foreign debt, which according to Wall Street has reached 73 billion dollars, and for which the island’s people bear no responsibility, he said.

López Rivera recalled that the Caribbean nation does not have its own public treasury to pay this debt, since all income generated goes straight to the United States, given its status as the reigning colonial power.

Puerto Rico cannot appeal to any international financial institution or declare bankruptcy as any state of the union could, because it is not part of U.S. continental territory and is prohibited from applying for financial bail-out programs, given its condition as a Free Associated State.

He explained that to resolve the issue, in 2016 the White House named a Financial Oversight Board, with powers greater than those of the governor, charged with the task of developing social cutback plans to guarantee payment to creditors.

López Rivera explained that economic measures taken since then have cut the budget for programs benefitting the population, and accentuate dependence on the United States.

This situation, he said, is leading many Puerto Ricans to fight for the island’s definitive independence, or emigrate to the mainland, a pattern that continues to increase. Moreover, the nation has been unable to recover from the disaster created in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, he added.

“Today we are confronting this criminal, vengeful debt imposed by credit agencies backed by the United States. Related to this issue, the government imposed on us the Financial Oversight Board, which is determining how to implement an austerity plan, one that threatens the present and future of Puerto Rico, in ways we can’t even imagine,” he stated.

The issue will be addressed in the United Nations General Assembly, he said, and the demand for the homeland’s independence and the right to self-determination will be raised, on the basis of the fact that, in 1952, when the United States imposed the Free Associated State, information was manipulated and distorted to serve its neocolonial goals.

“We advocate unity among left political forces, to put our differences aside and work to achieve our definitive independence, which has become a necessity,” López Rivera stressed.

As a young man he was recruited by the U.S. Army and obliged to participate in the Vietnam War.

Returning to the U.S. city of Chicago, where his family had settled in the 1970s, he joined the struggle in defense of the rights of Puerto Ricans, becoming an outstanding community organizer, demanding better living conditions for the population.

In 1976, he joined the underground movement in favor of Puerto Rican independence as a member of the National Liberation Armed Forces (FALN), and was imprisoned in 1981, following his arrest by the FBI and conviction for alleged seditious conspiracy.

At the time of his capture, he sought classification as a prisoner of war, in accordance with Protocol I of the 1949 Geneva Convention that recognizes this condition in cases of persons detained during armed conflicts and struggles against colonial oppression.

This demand was ignored by the U.S. government, which sentenced him to 55 years in prison. Subsequently, they fabricated an escape attempt and the sentence was extended to 70 years, 12 of which he spent in solitary confinement.

Oscar López served a total of 36 years of hard prison. On January 17, 2017, President Barack Obama granted him a pardon and his release occurred on May 17 of the same year.

He recently traveled to Cuba to attend the 4th International Conference for the Balance of the World in Havana, which was held at the end of January.

For this Puerto Rican patriot, returning to Cuba was a great honor. “I feel super excited to be here. This forum can illuminate us regarding the necessary unity and put divisions aside. I am one of those who have confidence that a better and more just world is possible. We fight to achieve the goal of prosperity for all human beings, because not only does Puerto Rico suffer, but the entire planet. We suffer the punishment imposed by the imperialist U.S. ogre.”

He said that maintaining the continuity and legacy of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro is important. “We need youth to continue that legacy, because it represents the future of society. To continue the example of Fidel Castro, who assumed it from José Martí,” he concluded.