In a week after the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, surmounting calls to end the imprisonment of Puerto Rican activist Oscar Rivera have gained more traction in the United States. According to Remezcla, when Roberto Prats of the Puerto Rican delegation spoke, his enthusiasm wasn’t the only thing that was noticeable; next to Prats were two shirts that read “Free Oscar Rivera: 35 years.”
Puerto Rico, an island still treated like a colony, makes the 2016 even more imperative:
“Included among the delegates’ unheeded recommendations was “recognition that Puerto Rico is a colony, the right for Puerto Rico to determine its future political relationship with the United States, restructuring of government debt,” and of course “the immediate liberation of the long-time political prisoner Oscar Lopez [Rivera].”
So, who is Oscar Rivera?
The 1960s and 1970s saw a time of radical actions in the Puerto Rican community, particularly in Chicago and New York. Young Puerto Ricans, dissuaded from rampant evictions, poverty, and police brutality, organized radically in their neighborhoods, seeking to end colonialism and exploitation. Alongside the Black Panthers, they formed the Young Lords Party, accepting neighborhood empowerment and self-determination as the foremost organizing principles. The FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional) was also developed, a clandestine paramilitary operative in the U.S. which bombed key military, government and economic areas in order to bring attention to the colonial predicament in Puerto Rico.
It was also during this era that Oscar Rivera began to organize. Rivera was a former military man who’d been drafted into the Vietnam War. In the late ’60s, he returned home to the United States to find that the Puerto Rican community in his Chicago neighborhood was suffering from a lack of health care, decent housing education, and political stratification. Rivera became a well-known community activist, working to create a Puerto Rican high school and Puerto Rican cultural center. He also worked to end discrimination in public education while petitioning for bilingual education.
In 1976, Rivera was first linked to the FALN. Four years later, after 11 men and women were arrested and charged with conspiring to overthrow the U.S., Rivera was again linked to the organization and tried as a co-defendent. He argued to remanded to an impartial international tribunal to have his status judged, but the U.S. government refused to try him as anything but a criminal.
To this day, Rivera serves one of the longest prison sentences in Puerto Rico and in the world.