Everything You Need to Know About Oscar Lopez Rivera, Puerto Rico's Most Notorious Activist

Cut-out of Oscar Lopez Rivera during march | © Glynnis Jones/ Shutterstock
Cut-out of Oscar Lopez Rivera during march | © Glynnis Jones/ Shutterstock
Photo of Mariela Santos
28 March 2017

In January 2017, then United States President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Oscar López Rivera, who was incarcerated in 1981 and sentenced to 55 years in prison for charges on “weapons, explosives and seditious conspiracy”. In 1998 he had been sentenced to an additional 15 years for planning to escape his prison. Here’s a brief summary of how López Rivera became the most famous Puerto Rican political prisoner.

Life before prison

Born in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, and raised in Chicago since the age of 14, López Rivera’s ideas about Puerto Rican independence were influenced by his service in the Vietnam War. Upon returning from the war, he began to work in Chicago as a community organizer after seeing how Puerto Ricans lacked essentials like health care and housing.

Marching in support of Oscar Lopez Rivera | © Glynnis Jones/ Shutterstock

Conviction and imprisonment

López Rivera was convicted for his connection to F.A.L.N., a pro-independence group that was responsible for numerous bombings and was active during the 1970s and 1980s, the New York Times reports. Of his approximately 36 years spent in prison, 12 were in solitary confinement; while in prison López Rivera took up painting. Then in 1999, about a dozen imprisoned F.A.L.N. members were offered clemency, along with López Rivera, but he declined the offer due to the exclusion of other imprisoned members.

Over the years, and especially as President Obama’s last term was coming to an end, many people called for his liberation and among the high-profile supporters of López Rivera’s release were: Pope Francis, Reverend Desmond Tutu, playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Congressman Luis Gutiérez, musician Residente, and Senator Bernie Sanders. In addition, his daughter consistently advocated for him.

Not everyone agreed with the calls for his release, but his lawyer Jan Susler is quoted in the New York Times saying that, “really the only controversy is that this man was still in prison after 35 years after not being convicted of hurting or killing anyone.”

Musician Residente in front of Oscar Lopez Rivera cabezudo | © a katz/ Shutterstock

Life after commutation

After returning to Puerto Rico in early February to carry out the rest of his sentence under house arrest until May 17, López Rivera is living with his only daughter. He was fitted with an electronic ankle monitor and cannot leave the house without prior approval, release any public statements or communicate in any way with people who have been imprisoned, according to El Nuevo Día. That same month, it was announced that part of a street in the Puerto Rican area of Humboldt Park in Chicago, would be named after him.

Once López Rivera no longer has to adhere to the aforementioned conditions, it is expected that he will make public statements.

Graffiti in support of Oscar Lopez Rivera | © Tito Caraballo/ Flickr

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