Oscar López Rivera

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This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is López and the second or maternal family name is Rivera.
Oscar López Rivera
Native name Oscar López Rivera
Born Oscar López Rivera
(1943-01-06) 6 January 1943 (age 73)
San Sebastián, Puerto Rico
Residence U.S. Penitentiary, Terre Haute, Vigo County, Indiana, U.S.
Known for Longest-incarcerated advocate FALN member[1][2]
Home town San Sebastián, Puerto Rico
Criminal charge Seditious conspiracy,[3] weapons violations,[4] conspirancy to transport explosives[4]
Criminal penalty Prison for 70 years
Criminal status Incarcerated by the U.S. government
Awards Bronze Star Medal

Oscar López Rivera (born 6 January 1943) is a Puerto Rican nationalist[4] and one of the leaders of the FALN. In 1981, López Rivera was convicted and sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery,[5] interstate transportation of firearms,[5] and conspiracy to transport explosives with intent to destroy government property.[4] In 1988 he was sentenced to an additional 15 years in prison for conspiring to escape from prison.[5]

López Rivera was among the 14[6] convicted FALN members offered conditional clemency by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1999, but rejected the offer. His sister, Zenaida López, said he refused the offer because on parole, he would be in "prison outside prison."[4][7] Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, has stated that "the primary reason that López Rivera did not accept the clemency offer extended to him in 1999 was because it had not also been extended to fellow FALN prisoner Carlos Torres (who was subsequently released from prison in July 2010)."[8] According to New York Times writer John Broder, López Rivera "refused to accept the President's offer to commute their sentences. Mr. Clinton demanded as one of the conditions of their release that the jailed Puerto Ricans renounce the use of terrorism to achieve their aim of independence for the Caribbean commonwealth."[9]

The continued imprisonment of López Rivera has been both opposed as well as supported by groups and individuals representing political, religious, and other various establishments. While some call him a terrorist, others call him as a political prisoner. Several U.S. Congressmen support Oscar López Rivera's release from prison.[10][11][12][13][14] There has also been continued support for the continued incarceration of López Rivera by family members of the individuals killed by the FALN, who still see López Rivera as representing the FALN conspiracy.[15]

Early years and personal life[edit]

Oscar López Rivera was born in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico,[16][17][18] on 6 January 1943. His family moved to the U.S. when he was nine years old. At the age of 14, he moved to Chicago to live with a sister. At age 18 he was drafted into the army and served in the Vietnam War and awarded the Bronze Star. When he returned to Illinois from the war in 1967, he found that drugs, unemployment, housing, health care and education in the Puerto Rican community had reached dire levels and set to work in community organizations to improve the quality of life for Puerto Ricans.[19]

He was a well-respected community activist and an independence leader for many years prior to his arrest.[20] Oscar worked in the creation of both the Puerto Rican High School and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. He was also involved in the struggle for bilingual education in public schools and to force universities to actively recruit Latino students, staff, and faculty. He worked on ending discrimination in public utilities.[19]

López Rivera was one of the founders of La Escuelita Puertorriqueña, now known as the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School and the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center. He was a community organizer for the Northwest Community Organization (NCO), ASSPA, ASPIRA and the 1st Congregational Church of Chicago. He helped to found FREE, a half-way house for convicted drug addicts, and ALAS, an educational program for Latino prisoners at Stateville Prison in Illinois.[21]

Criminal activities and convictions[edit]

The Federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois[22] convicted López Rivera for seditious conspiracy and other charges stemming from his participation in the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a Marxist-Leninist organization which sought to transform Puerto Rico into a communist state during the 1970s.[23][24][full citation needed] López Rivera was first linked to the criminal conspiracy carried out by the FALN in 1976. That year, a burglar was arrested in Chicago attempting to peddle stolen explosives. The burglar led the Chicago police to an apartment, nearly void of furniture, but in which there were boxes containing explosives and bomb-making paraphernalia, weapons, clothing, wigs, and photographs of Chicago buildings, maps of the city, and several FALN documents, including a manual for guerrilla warfare detailing deceptive practices and rules of clandestine living titled Posición Política. This bomb factory was linked to the owner of the apartment, Carlos Torres, López Rivera, and their respective wives, Marie Haydée Beltrán Torres and Ida Luz Rodríguez. All four became fugitives after this discovery. Torres Beltrán was ultimately convicted of the bombing that killed Charles Prendergast at the Mobil office building in New York. The four suspects were also linked to the National Commission on Hispanic Affairs (NCHA) of the Protestant Episcopal Church, a charitable organization based in New York City that was meant to fund projects to assist Hispanic communities all over the United States.[25] The next break in the investigation, occurred in 1977, when 11 FALN members, including Luz Rodriguez and Torres Beltrán, were arrested during a planned robbery of armored truck in Evanston, Illinois. It was a few years later that López Rivera was fortuitously apprehended, when he made an illegal turn after running a stop sign in a Chicago suburb, then gave the police a phony Oregon driver's license.[26]

At his trial 1980–81, López Rivera, claiming a status as a prisoner of war, refused to participate in the proceedings. In August 1981, at the trial of López Rivera, Alfredo Méndez, one of the 11 Evanston FALN members who had turned informant, testified that López Rivera taught him how to make bomb detonation devices and gun silencers. He also testified that the first bombing in which Méndez was to have taken part was to have occurred in the hotel where the offices for the Democratic Party were located. Other bombings were scheduled to occur simultaneously in New York City, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Speaking on his own behalf in the closing arguments López Rivera stated, "Puerto Rico will be a free and socialist country" and denounced Méndez as "a traitor." [26] López Rivera was convicted of "seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and ammunition to aid in the commission of a felony, and interstate transportation of stolen vehicles".[27] The presentencing report summarizes of López Rivera found that he had been:[28]

personally involved in bombing and incendiary attacks across the country for at least five years prior to Méndez's [sic] involvement and knowledge, has been a prime recruiter for members of the underground terrorist group, and has been a key trainer in bombing, sabotage and other techniques of guerilla warfare. He has set up a series of safehouses and bomb factories across the country, the searches of which have uncovered literally hundreds of pounds of dynamite and other forms of high explosive, blasting caps, timing devices, huge caches of weapons and stockpiles of ammunition, silencers, sawed-off shotguns, disguises, stolen and altered identity documents, and the proceeds of the armed robberies of locations such as a National Guard Armory, Chicago's Carter-Mondale Re-Election headquarters, radio and communications companies, as well as a variety of stolen vehicles.

In 1988, López Rivera was convicted of conspiracy to escape and given an additional 15 years.[20] An initial escape plot in 1983, utilizing explosives and weapons and involving Carlos Torres and Edwin Cortés in 1983 was foiled, but the conspirators were not arrested in order to maintain surveillance of their activities.[29] A second escape plot, which involved explosives and weapons, ultimately led to the conviction and arrest of two of the FBI's most wanted fugitives of the 1980s, Claude Daniels Marks and Donna Jean Willmott.[30]

In 1995, in interviews after his conviction, López Rivera neither confirmed nor denied his affiliation with the FALN and disowned any personal involvement in the bombing deaths.[31] After spending twelve years in maximum security prisons in Marion, Illinois and Florence, Colorado, he was transferred to the general prison population at the federal correctional facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he remains today.

Claims he is a political prisoner[edit]

Self declaration[edit]

At the time of their arrest López Rivera and the others declared themselves to be combatants in an anti-colonial war against the United States to liberate Puerto Rico from U.S. domination and invoked prisoner of war status, claiming that the U.S. courts did not have jurisdiction to treat them as criminals and petitioned for their cases to be handed over to an international court that would determine their status. The U.S. Government, however, did not recognize their request.[32]


For many years, numerous national and international organizations criticized López Rivera' incarceration categorizing it as political imprisonment.[33] Luis Nieves Falcón, a social science professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, has said that López Rivera is "among the longest held political prisoners in the history of Puerto Rico and in the world."[34] He has been jailed for 35 years, 2 months and 26 days.[35]

Cases involving the release of other Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners have been categorized as cases of political prisoners, with some[36][37][38][39] being more vocal than others.[40][41][42]

On 7 June 2012, Puerto Rican activist Tito Kayak started a two-leg lone high seas voyage from Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Washington, D.C., to protest the U.S. incarceration of Oscar López Rivera. Kayak described him as a political prisoner.[43][44]

In 1999, speaking on the FALN's charge of seditious conspiracy, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez stated that the charge was "a political charge",[45] and Congressman John J. LaFalce added that it represented López Rivera's "desire to have independence for Puerto Rico from the United States".[45] The charge of seditious conspiracy refers to participation in plots aiming to "overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States".[46]

Prison experience[edit]

Supporters of López Rivera have accused the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons of isolating López Rivera on the basis of his political beliefs.[47] Twelve of his 32 years in prison, López Rivera has been held in solitary confinement in maximum security prisons in the United States.[31]

In 2006, a special committee of the United Nations called for the release of the remaining Puerto Rican political prisoners in United States prisons.[36]

Claims he is a terrorist[edit]


The continued incarceration of López Rivera has been supported by many in the United States, including a majority Congress, including the representative of Puerto Rico in Congress. President Clinton's offer of clemency to former FALN members, including Oscar, was strongly opposed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the US House of Representatives (311-41)[6] and the Senate (95-2).[45][48] López Rivera and the other FALN prisoners were labelled as terrorists by the U.S. Congress.

On 21 September 1999, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Carlos Romero Barceló testified that he "did not oppose the conditional release of these criminals, but (he) did oppose their unconditional release."[49] López Rivera had sought unconditional release. In making the statement to a committee evaluating the pardons, he stated: "Between 1974 and 1983, a small group of political extremists waged an armed campaign of terror and violence that shocked, horrified and even humiliated Puerto Rico ... they carried out over 100 major armed attacks in the mainland and in Puerto Rico with the purpose of imposing independence for the island by means of violence, threats and terror. I would like to stress that their aim was to obtain independence by force, by terror and by violence."

Barceló went on further to comment on the convictions of López and others that the:[50]

individuals involved were not tried or convicted in Federal court for any act of murder or act of violence against another person, because for one, those were not crimes at the times when they were convicted. They were not Federal crimes. The Antiterrorism Act was not enacted until 1990, and further amended in 1996. All of these terrorists were tried on or before 1983, so they could not have been indicted by the Federal Government for those crimes nor for being accessories or accomplices to those crimes. However, they have been members of a terrorist organization. They have never denied as having been part of the FALN or Los Macheteros, and if they didn't participate directly in any of the deaths or injuries, they remained as active members of the organizations and applauded, encouraged and supported those crimes both personally and financially.

Families of the dead and injured[edit]

While López Rivera does not deny or confirm his affiliation with the FALN and disowns any personal involvement in the bombing deaths, The FALN was involved in more than 100 bombings in New York, Chicago and other cities. The 1975 bombing at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan killed four people, among them, Frank Connor, age 33. His son, Joseph F. Connor, has played an instrumental role in blocking the release of López Rivera, the man he considers partly responsible for his father's death.[15]

Former New York City police officer Richard Pascarella, who was blinded and lost five fingers on his right hand in an FALN bombing, also publicly opposed clemency to FALN members, claiming: "They will again voice their ideology on the American public with a bomb and with a gun."[51]

Incarceration support by others[edit]

Those opposed to the Clinton clemency point out that Oscar López was convicted, among other charges, of armed robbery and for being a recruiter and bomb-making trainer in the FALN.[26]

In addition others note the additional conviction that was added in 1986 to López Rivera's sentence for taking part in an unsuccessful violent plot to use hand grenades, plastic explosives, blasting caps, and a helicopter to engineer and escape from Leavenworth prison.[52][53] The FALN seditious conspiracy, with its many bombings of civilian buildings in New York and Chicago, was one of targets of the first terrorism task force in the United States; the US Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), established in April, 1980, had as one of its goals to pursue threats from the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN).[54]

Clemency offer[edit]

López Rivera was among the 14 convicted FALN members offered conditional clemency by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1999, but he rejected the offer.[55] Clinton and others defended this offer of clemency, stating that Oscar López Rivera was never convicted of specific crimes that resulted in deaths or injuries,[56] and that López Rivera was never convicted of any act of violence.[33][57][58][59]

President Bill Clinton judged that the sentences received by López Rivera and the other nationalists were "out of proportion to the nationalists' offenses."[4][60][61]

Among the conditions for the clemency that López Rivera declined, was that they renounce the use of terrorism.[9]

According to Outstanding Book Award editors Andrés Torres and José Emiliano Velázquez, U.S. Government statistics showed the prisoners' sentences were "about six times longer" than sentences for murder offenses by the American population at large.[62][note 1][63]

The clemency offer was opposed by bipartisan majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives (311-41)[6] and Senate (95-2).[45][48] Those opposed to the clemency point out that Oscar López was convicted, among other charges, of armed robbery and for being a recruiter for the FALN and trainer in how to make bombs and silencers.[26]

Calls for his release[edit]

The continued imprisonment of Oscar López Rivera has been opposed by the Puerto Rican community in the United States, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.[64][65][66][67]

His release has been demanded by 10 Nobel Peace Prize winners, Coretta Scott King, President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Senator Bernie Sanders as well as an international coalition of human rights, and religious, labor, and business leaders including the United Council of Churches of Christ, United Methodist Church, Baptist Peace Fellowship, Episcopal Church of Puerto Rico, and the Catholic Archbishop of San Juan.[6][64][65][66][67][68][69][70]


In 2010, the Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, officially requested López Rivera's release.[71]


In 2013, several high-profile manifestations took place in Puerto Rico on behalf of Oscar López Rivera. These were attended by the highest levels of Puerto Rican government, politicians from all political parties, prominent Puerto Rican artists, singers, actors, Major League baseball players, and hundreds of other people.[72][73][74][75]

Several U.S. congressmen, as well as the Governor of Puerto Rico, have also shown their support for his release, asking the President of the United States for it.[10][12][14][74]

On 29 May 2013, on the 32nd anniversary of López Rivera's continuous incarceration, high-ranking officials, former prison personnel, singers, actors, Major League baseball players, and hundreds of other volunteers participated in mock-up prison cell events throughout Puerto Rico calling for the release of López Rivera from the American prison system.[75] In addition, several U.S. Congressmen have shown their support for his release from prison, with a few contacting President Obama asking for his release.[10][12][14]

In a manifestation of solidarity for the release of López Rivera, numerous volunteers participated in a 24-hour demonstration where they remained confined to 6 ft x 9 ft mock-up prison cells intended to represent López Rivera's current cell size in Terre Haute, Indiana. The demonstrations took place on 29 May 2013 at the central squares of Puerto Rico's four largest cities, San Juan, Ponce, Mayagüez, and Arecibo.[64][67] Some of the volunteers included politicians, like María de Lourdes Santiago, a Puerto Rican senator,[76] musicians, like Tito Auger,[76] and actors, like Ángela Meyer.[76]

Others entering the mock-up cells were pro-Statehood party Ponce mayor María Meléndez, writer Mayra Montero, San Juan pro-Commonwealth party mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, former Puerto Rico governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, and former Major Leagues baseball player Carlos Delgado.[74]

On that same day hundreds of activists, including pop star Ricky Martin, asked for his release from prison.[72][73] The governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla, also joined the call for López Rivera's release, communicating his request by letter to President Barack Obama.[74] His release is also supported by Congressmen Luis Gutiérrez and José E. Serrano, as well as by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez.


A group of young students and workers in Spain joined the international demand for the release of Oscar López Rivera. From 28 February 2014 until 1 April 2014 the Comite 33 días por la excarcelación de Oscar informed the population resident in Spain about the violation of human rights that the U.S. government has committed against López Rivera. In addition, they collected signatures to ask U.S. President Barack H. Obama to grant him a presidential pardon.[66]

External audio
You can hear a half-hour radio news segment on Oscar López Rivera, conducted by NYC radio host Howard Jordan on WBAI 99.5 FM (on June 6, 2014) Here.

In March 2014 the Mexican pop singer Cristian Castro joined the international demand for López Rivera's release.[65]

In early June 2014 the Speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, officially supported the release of Oscar López Rivera.[77]

On 6 June 2014 in New York City, radio station WBAI 99.5 FM conducted a half-hour news and interview segment on Oscar López Rivera. The radio segment was conducted by Howard Jordan, the host of the show.[78]

On 7 June 2014, Miguel Cotto and José Pedraza called for the release of Oscar López Rivera, lending their prestige as champion fighters hailing from Puerto Rico. Miguel Cotto is the middleweight champion of the world and the first Puerto Rican to be the world boxing champion in four different weight classes. The two fighters appeared with “Free Oscar López Rivera” shirts in the ring at Madison Square Garden, and Pedraza previously wore the shirt in a fight in Puerto Rico.[79]

On 8 June 2014, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade paid tribute to Oscar López Rivera. On that day, a contingent in support of his release marched in the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. A week earlier, the June 1 march in Bronx, NYC was also dedicated to Oscar López Rivera.[79]


On 16 May 2016 Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders publicly tweeted, "Oscar Lopez Rivera has served 34 years in prison for his commitment to Puerto Rico's independence. I say to President Obama: let him out."[80]


  1. ^ The figures are based on Torres and Velazquez's documented average of 5.4 years' prison term received by those convicted of murder, and pitting this average against the average 65.4 years' prison term that the FALN prisoners received


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