For more than 32 years, political prisoner Oscar López Rivera has been viewed as a “freedom fighter” similar to that of Nelson Mandela. In the colonized Puerto Rico, López Rivera is recognized as a symbol of hope and freedom.
“He is somebody who fights and advocates for justice, for freedom everywhere,” said Matt McCanna, member of the National Boricua Human Rights Network. “There have been comparisons out there of Oscar to Nelson Mandela; I think that’s 100 percent true.”
At a breakfast dedicated to Mandela and held for López Rivera, people in the Humboldt Park community tried to spread awareness, and raise money for his care in prison 9 a.m. Sunday at Casa Puertorriquena, 1237 N. California Ave.
The ultimate goal of the National Boricua Human Rights organization, who put on the event, is to raise over 100,000 signatures to be sent to President Barack Obama by mid-next year.
“The proceeds all are donated to Oscar López Rivera’s allowance in prison,” McCanna said. “This is to help him make phone calls to family and to help him buy art supplies to paint in order to express himself while he’s in this horribly oppressive atmosphere.”
The event raised over $1,000 for Rivera, but it also raised the symbolism of López Rivera, Mandela and the current issues in Puerto Rico.
Mandela is viewed as a symbol of freedom and social justice, but that wasn’t always the case, said Lourdes Lugo, López Rivera’s niece.
“I remember when Dick Cheney and the majority of people that were in the government were opposing the release of the terrorist known as Nelson Mandela,” said Lugo. “And then under the apartheid system, the people freed Mandela. Now, everyone in the White House is saying Nelson Mandela this and Nelson Mandela that. He is recognized as a hero.“
López Rivera and Mandela’s cases are quite similar: they were both charged with seditious conspiracy, but Mandela was charged with armed revolutionary activities whereas Oscar was not.
The U.S. Government describes López Rivera as one of the leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a Puerto Rican Nationalist group linked to more than 100 bombings and five deaths in the 1970s, according to Wikipedia. López Rivera denies involvement in these deaths, but refused clemency offered by former president Clinton because he said he’d still be in prison outside of prison if released.
“Oscar was never convicted of harming or hurting anybody, and yet he has been in prison longer than murderers and rapists,” McCanna said. “Nelson Mandela, who had the charge of armed revolutionary activities, is revered as a freedom fighter, someone who struggles for his people. Why is it that Oscar is viewed as a terrorist?”
Just over two weeks ago, a march was held in Puerto Rico for López Rivera, and over 40,000 people showed up to march for his freedom.
Eduardo Arrocho, one of the performers from the breakfast, was at this march and said it reflected the impact that the Humboldt Park community and their branches are having.
“It was really wonderful to see Oscar’s image and hear daily talk of him on the radio and in print media,” said Arrocho, who read a poem at the breakfast. “It’s a sharp contrast to here. Outside of this community, we don’t really know what the issues are with Puerto Rico and the importance of Oscar Lopez Rivera. He represents the struggle to be able to freely express desire for independence for Puerto Rico, the human rights challenges that Puerto Ricans go through, and the illegality of a colony.”
Rivera finds such a strong community in Humboldt Park because he is “rooted” in the community McCanna said. Many of the buildings in Humboldt wouldn’t be here without him.
“He wanted to help Puerto Ricans, the diaspora … who were living in horrible housing situations, and weren’t receiving proper education,” McCanna said. “I think a lot of people may not know that Oscar was behind a lot of the institutions here.“
The goal of the National Boricua Human Rights organization is to teach people about López Rivera, keep holding events for him and eventually free him from prison.
Sixty people were at the breakfast held in López Rivera’s honor, and one resounding sentiment could be understood from the crowd.
[pullquote]“We want Oscar home,” Lugo said. “We want Oscar to have the story of Nelson Mandela.”[/pullquote]