Thursday, January 26, 2017

Imprisoned Independentistas

Måkpo' i tiempo-ña si Barack Obama. Gi i hinichom i uttimo na sakkån-ña, meggai na petitions manhuyong put difirentes na taotao ni' mangkinalabobosu, ya kada manggagaggao mina'a'se para un presuneru. Dos na Chamorro ni' mapopongle komo presuneron federåt para u masotta. Mas ki un siento mit na taotao mamfitma petiton para i nina'libre si Leonard Peltier un Natibu na Amerikanu, lao si Obama ti ha ayuda gui'. 

Estague na tinige' siha put i masottå-ña si Oscar Lopez Rivera, un independista ginen Puerto Rico. 

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Obama commute sentence for political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera

López Rivera, whose commutation was announced with 208 others, has been incarcerated for 35 years for his role in fighting for Puerto Rico’s independence
by Sam Levin
The Guardian/UK
January 17, 2017

Barack Obama has commuted the sentence of Oscar López Rivera, a victory for the Puerto Rican independence activist who is considered to be one of the world’s longest-serving political prisoners.
In his final days in office, Obama has issued a record number of pardons and commutations, including granting the release of Chelsea Manning on Tuesday, the US army soldier who became one of the most famous whistleblowers in modern times.

López Rivera, whose commutation was announced on Tuesday along with those of 208 others, has been incarcerated for 35 years for his role in fighting for Puerto Rico’s independence.

The 74-year-old, who has spent more than half of his life behind bars, was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” for plotting against the US. The US government had also classified him as a terrorist.
If Obama had not intervened, he would have remained in captivity until 26 June 2023, five months after his 80th birthday.

Jan Susler, López Rivera’s lawyer, said the prisoner’s release is a huge win in the ongoing fight for Puerto Rican independence, adding that she was grateful that Obama understood “there wasn’t any legitimate reason to keep Oscar in prison.

“We have to celebrate every victory,” she said. “We have a lot of work left to do, and now Oscar will be able to join us, and we can work side by side.”

Susler broke the news to López Rivera.

“He said, ‘Can you imagine a better birthday present for my daughter?’” Susler told the Guardian by phone, adding: “He’s a very centered, peaceful human being, and that’s how he received the news.”

In a recent interview with the Guardian, he said he still believes in what he described as the “noble cause” of full sovereignty for his Caribbean birthplace, which is classified as a US “territory”.
López Rivera was born in 1943 in San Sebastián in Puerto Rico, where he lived until his family moved to Chicago when he was 14 years old. He was later drafted to serve in the Vietnam war, and when he returned he became deeply involved in community activism among Puerto Ricans in Chicago.

López Rivera eventually became a member of a clandestine group called Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, which argued that armed force was a justified tactic in the fight for Puerto Rican independence.

US prosecutors accused the group of carrying out 140 bombings on military bases, government offices and financial buildings, but López Rivera has repeatedly denied involvement with fatal attacks.

The prisoner has repeatedly insisted that he was focused on actions that did not endanger people’s lives.

“For me, human life is sacred. We called it ‘armed propaganda’ – using targets to draw attention to our struggle,” he told the Guardian last year.

The group was dismantled in 1983, and López Rivera and his fellow Puerto Rican independence fighters eventually renounced violence and embraced peaceful reform tactics.


Asked about his decision to publicly renounce force, he said, “We realised other tactics to armed force could be more effective, mobilising people through peaceful campaigning. Morally, also, we came to see that we had to lead by example, that if we are advocating for a better world then there are things you cannot do. You cannot get a better world by being unjust yourself.”

In August of 1999, Bill Clinton used his final days in office to grant a pardon to 11 Puerto Rican independence fighters. López Rivera was offered a lesser deal that would have resulted in early release after a decade, but he turned it down because he said he did not believe the US government would stick to its side of the bargain, and he was upset offers were not made to fellow fighters.

“When I was in Vietnam I never left anyone behind. That’s not my practice, I couldn’t do it,” he told the Guardian last year.

Many prominent figures have aggressively lobbied for López Rivera’s pardon, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla; the Hispanic caucus of the US Congress; former US president Jimmy Carter; former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders; and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the smash Broadway musical Hamilton
Miranda brought widespread attention to López Rivera’s case after confronting Obama during a White House visit.

“Sobbing with gratitude,” the performer tweeted on Tuesday. “OSCAR LOPEZ RIVERA IS COMING HOME.” Miranda also announced that he would play the role of Alexander Hamilton for a performance for López Rivera in the Chicago production.

Some have compared López Rivera to Nelson Mandela, labeling him the “Mandela of Puerto Rico”.
The commutation could have implications beyond López Rivera. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said last year he would seek the release of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez if the US agreed to release López Rivera.

US congressman Luis Gutiérrez celebrated Obama’s decision on Tuesday, saying in a statement, “I am overjoyed and overwhelmed with emotion. Oscar is a friend, a mentor, and family to me ... The long fight against colonialism in the Caribbean has had many chapters and we have all put violence behind us. Releasing Oscar Lopez Rivera back to his homeland and his people is a step towards peace and reconciliation and is being celebrated by Puerto Ricans of all political stripes, classes, colors and geographies.”

Obama has commuted the sentences of 1,385 individuals, more than any other US president. On a call with reporters, a White House official said more commutations are expected “most likely on Thursday”.

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Puerto Rican Nationalist Freed From Prison
by Charles Babington
Washington Post
September 11, 1999
 
Most of the 14 Puerto Rican nationalists granted clemency by President Clinton left prison yesterday and prepared to return to their homeland after years behind bars.

Friends and relatives celebrated their releases from various prisons around the country, but few people saw a quick end to the political controversy the clemency has stirred. Both the House and Senate have scheduled hearings next week on Clinton's decision, and some Hispanic officials in New York say the episode has cooled their enthusiasm for Hillary Rodham Clinton's possible Senate campaign in that state.

The 14 were members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by its Spanish initials FALN, which sought independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. FALN was responsible for more than 100 bombings in Chicago and elsewhere in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which left six dead and many injured. But none of the 14 was found to be directly responsible for the deaths or injuries.
Clinton on Aug. 11 offered them conditional clemency if they would renounce violence. He later said he was swayed in part by the long sentences most had served and by appeals made on their behalf by former president Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others.

Last night, several hundred members of Chicago's Puerto Rican community celebrated the release of the prisoners with music and speeches before ex-prisoner Ricardo Jimenez took the stage to wild cheers. Speaking in Spanish, Jimenez called for a "Puerto Rico libre" and said he would not stop the fight until Oscar Lopez Rivera and the other prisoners are free. He said Lopez Rivera was the last person he hugged before leaving prison, and that leaving him behind caused him the greatest pain.
Jimenez thanked the Chicagoans for campaigning for the prisoners' release. "There was not one day in all this time that you didn't fight for our liberty," he said.

Jose Lopez, who is the brother of Lopez Rivera and directs the Humboldt Park cultural center where the celebration was held, said the release made people "really happy. It's an incredible thing just to have them here with us and be able to see them and touch them."

Saying that the prisoners' situation is "ultimately about colonialism," Lopez added, "What Nelson Mandela is to South Africa, Ricardo Jimenez is to us."

Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, who is Puerto Rican and whose office is several blocks from the casita, also applauded the release but criticized the conditions. "I'm concerned that with all the conditions, they'll just try to throw them back in jail," Maldonado said. "They were convicted of seditious conspiracy; they were never convicted of terrorist acts. They shouldn't be labeled as terrorists."

Clinton offered clemency to 16 FALN members, but two turned him down. Of the 14 others, two already were out of prison, but the president's decision will soften the post-release conditions on them. Another will be eligible for release in a couple of years. The remaining 11 were scheduled for release yesterday.

"It's our opinion that this closes a major chapter in the effort to bring some reconciliation in this matter," said Manuel Mirabal, president of the Washington-based National Puerto Rican Coalition. "We believe it is a matter of justice. . . . Today, sentencing standards would never provide for the length of sentences that these individuals received."

The original sentences ranged from 35 to 90 years. Most of those released yesterday had spent more than a decade in prison.

Clinton's clemency decision triggered a national debate when several Republicans accused him of trying to curry favor for his wife among New York's Puerto Rican voters. They noted that Clinton had granted only three of 3,000 previous clemency requests. Clinton said politics played no role in his decision.

The first lady said last week that she felt the clemency offer should be withdrawn because the FALN members had not vowed to renounce violence. She later said she was not aware that her husband had set a Sept. 10 deadline for the members to accept the conditional offer.

"I haven't discussed other clemency issues with her, and I didn't think I should discuss this one," the president told reporters Thursday.

Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), a Puerto Rico native and supporter of the clemency offer, said Hillary Clinton has hurt her credibility. "I'm still angry, and I've heard nothing to change my mind," Serrano said. "If that campaign can be so insensitive to something that means so much to Puerto Ricans, how sensitive can they be to issues that affect blacks in my community? That affect Dominicans in my community? That affect Mexicans moving into my community?"

Special correspondent Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report.
 
© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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First Lady Opposes Pureto Rican Clemency Offer
by Dan Morgan
Washington Post
September 5, 1999

Hillary Rodham Clinton, distancing herself from a politically controversial action by her husband, said yesterday that she opposes the release from prison or other forms of clemency for 16 members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group that was involved in more than 100 bombings in this country at least 15 years ago.

When President Clinton announced a clemency offer on Aug. 11, it had strong support from human rights leaders and was widely seen as boosting Hillary Clinton's standing among New York's Hispanic voters in her expected campaign for the Senate next year. But a backlash quickly developed against the offer from senior law enforcement officials and leading New York politicians.

In a statement yesterday explaining her position, Hillary Clinton said the prisoners had not renounced further acts of violence, a key condition of the president's offer. "It's been three weeks and their silence speaks volumes," she said.

The back-and-forth underscored the complex – and deepening – interconnection between the presidency and Hillary Clinton's unfolding Senate campaign.

One well-placed Democratic observer suggested that as Hillary Clinton's campaign gears up, many of the president's actions are likely to be interpreted through the prism of the Senate race, even when the White House is acting for other reasons.

At the same time, the issue of clemency for the Puerto Rican terrorists may have served as an early warning of the potential perils of using presidential authority to advance Hillary Clinton's political fortunes.

Yesterday, she stressed that she had "no involvement in or prior knowledge of the decision, as is entirely appropriate."

The White House has denied that the decision to offer clemency to the 16 Puerto Ricans was based on calculations about the benefits to Hillary Clinton. Human rights leaders, such as former President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, along with U.S. Hispanic leaders, strongly urged the release of the prisoners, all of whom have been incarcerated for 14 years or longer. Clinton offered to release 11 members of FALN, reduce the amount of time three others must serve and eliminate fines against two others, one of whom already is out of prison.

The backlash against the offer is reported to have caught the White House by surprise and forced a reassessment.

On Friday, White House lawyers advised attorneys for the prisoners that if they did not respond in writing to the president's offer by 5 p.m. next Friday, "we would consider that a rejection of the offer and they would continue serving their sentences," White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said yesterday.

"We have always believed that renunciation of violence was a critical condition of this clemency offer," he said. Kennedy said that Hillary Clinton was not informed about the letter.

Yesterday morning, according to Hillary Clinton's spokesman, she informed the president that she had decided to issue a statement calling for the withdrawal of the offer.

It was unclear yesterday what the impact would be in New York's large Hispanic and Puerto Rican communities. Hispanic leaders in Congress could not be reached for comment.

New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Hillary Clinton's likely Republican opponent in next year's race for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has called the president's clemency offer "a mistake," and there has also been opposition from high-ranking congressional Republicans. A Giuliani spokesman said yesterday the mayor would have no comment on Hillary Clinton's statement.

Moynihan himself, the state's senior Democrat, has also indicated that he opposes the offer, which received massive news coverage across the state. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), has reserved judgment pending further study of an internal Justice Department report laying out the options on the matter for the president.

"Mrs. Clinton is a person in her own right and I assume after reviewing material she made a decision," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.). Lowey said she was still gathering information on which to form her own opinion.

In reaching its recommendations for President Clinton, the White House counsel's office noted that most of the prisoners have already served at least 19 years, and one has served nearly 25 years. The bombings, by the pro-independence Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN by its Spanish initials, took place between 1974 and 1983. They killed at least six persons and injured scores more. But none of those whose sentences the president proposes to commute were directly involved in the deaths and injuries, officials said.

On Friday, attorneys for 15 of the jailed Puerto Rican nationalists said the clemency offer is unfair because it would impose too many restrictions on the FALN members once they are freed from prison. "It's conditioned upon them complying with terms that would limit their ability to integrate themselves into the political process to shape the future of their country, because it restricts their travel and association," one of the attorneys, Jan Susler, told the Associated Press Television News (APTN).

Susler and lawyer Michael Deutsch said the FALN members all have renounced violence – a condition of the clemency offer – but had problems with other parts of the deal.

Deutsch said Friday that if FALN members accepted the offer they would be barred from participating in political movements advocating independence for Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States. Their travel also would be severely restricted, he said.
Carter previously pardoned several Puerto Rican nationalists who were convi
cted of storming the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954 and wounding five members.

Several observers said yesterday that the attention given to Hillary Clinton's statement yesterday is part of her transition from supportive first lady to candidate in her own right. As the months pass, some suggested, it will be commonplace for her to be taking stands that are at odds from those of the president – such as her demands for increased Medicare funding of New York's teaching hospitals.
But at this point, the sources suggested, the transition is still awkward for both the White House and the first lady.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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Why Oscar Lopez-Rivera deserves freedom
By Pedro Reina-Pérez  


Oscar López-Rivera’s release from federal prison through an executive pardon granted by President Obama in the closing days of his final term, is symbolic in ways that cannot be fully understood separate from the social and economic challenges facing Puerto Rico.

Arrested in 1981 and charged with seditious conspiracy, a rarely used criminal charge, López-Rivera was sentenced to 55 years in prison for belonging to the Armed Forces for National Liberation, Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional or FALN, an armed group responsible for several bombings in the United States. He was never directly linked to any acts that resulted in death or injury, but was tried for trying to overthrow the US government’s control of the island.

In his defense, he claimed to be a political prisoner and demanded that his case be tried in an international tribunal, something the US government flatly rejected. In 1985, he was convicted of planning an escape, and 15 years were added to his sentence.

Shortly before finishing his second term in 1999, President Clinton extended a conditional clemency offer to Lopez-Rivera and 13 others convicted in the same case, judging the sentences they were serving in prison to be excessively long. López-Rivera rejected this offer because it did not apply to other Puerto Rican prisoners tried with him who would remain imprisoned. The result was a long incarceration that made him one of the oldest political prisoners in the world.

Despite this long incarceration — which included 12 years of solitary confinement — López-Rivera became a model prisoner, whose solidarity and generosity to his fellow inmates earned him widespread recognition. He went from being a common inmate to becoming a symbol of dignity for people demanding social justice inside and outside of Puerto Rico. Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Pope Francis have been among those pleading for his release as a testament to compassion, decency, and common sense. Some went as far as calling him a Latin American Nelson Mandela but, for his compatriots he was simply Oscar.

Why do Puerto Ricans celebrate his imminent return to the island? Because it’s a modest triumph of justice in conditions of profound injustice.

Puerto Rico is the oldest colony, owned by the empire that claims to defend freedom and democracy in the world. To make matters worse it’s a colony inhabited by US citizens who cannot fully exercise the rights granted in virtue of that same citizenship. The result is an extreme form of inequity, evidenced by the imposition by Congress in 2016 of a Fiscal Management and Control Board under the PROMESA Act to solve the island’s financial crisis. The unelected board will exercise total over public finances to ensure repayment of $72 billion to bondholders and other creditors while implementing radical austerity measures that shall inflict considerable pain.

That is the context in which President Obama acted to release a prisoner unfairly condemned for demanding self-determination for Puerto Rico. A modest act not only of clemency but of justice, one in keeping with the values that the United States swears to protect but whimsically denies to Puerto Ricans in the island. This is a fatal contradiction that will only get worse as public spending and pensions are drastically reduced. And yet, Puerto Rico will welcome Oscar López-Rivera with joy. A breath of fresh air before an impending storm.

Pedro Reina-Pérez is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico and a visiting scholar at Harvard University.

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