Puerto Rico’s Debt Is Not Financial, It’s Colonial: The Political Imprisonment of Oscar Lopez Rivera
Vicente “Panama” Alba joined us from Puerto Rico to discuss the political imprisonment and repression of Puerto Rican Nationalists
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
Summarizing the history of our subject this segment, columnist Dahr Jamail wrote the following in May for TruthOut.org: In 1981, Oscar Lopez Rivera was convicted in the United States in truly Orwellian fashion of the thought crime of seditious conspiracy, despite never having been accused of causing harm to anyone, let alone taking a life. Having been deemed dangerous by the U.S. government, Lopez Rivera was imprisoned. His release date, without a presidential pardon, will be 2027 when he is 84 years old.
To discuss this further is our guest Vicente Panama Alba. Alba is a union organizer and was formerly a member of the Young Lords party, and was himself incarcerated as a political prisoner for his alleged involvement in the Puerto Rican national independence movement.
What’s up, my man, Panama. Welcome to the program and thank you again for joining us.
VICENTE PANAMA ALBA, FORMER MEMBER, THE YOUNG LORDS: Thank you for having me. I am actually in Puerto Rico.
BALL: Oh, I did not know that. Well, welcome, and thank you for joining us from Puerto Rico. Thank you, that’s perfect.
So if you would, let’s–I wanted to ask you to respond to that initial introduction and tell us a little bit about Oscar Lopez Rivera and the work that he was involved in that you were also a time involved in, and what led to his incarceration and what people are trying to do to get him out now.
ALBA: Well, you got to understand something. Puerto Rico was militarily invaded in 1898 after 400 years of colonialism under Spain. It came under U.S. imperialism’s brand of colonialism. And that’s what we have been living under since 1898 to the present. There has been numerous efforts on the part of the people to free Puerto Rico from colonial domination. In 1950, the nationalist party led an uprising. October 30, 1950. Many people were killed. Many went to prison. And that was one of the [great] examples that we have before us in terms of the struggle for national liberation.
Oscar Lopez Rivera was part of the Puerto Rican community in the diaspora inside the United States. He was born in Puerto Rico, migrated to New York first and Chicago, where he established, his family established roots. A Vietnam veteran, decorated for bravery in Vietnam, who in that process begins to develop a consciousness about the nature of the United States government and the nature of racism in America, and the United States, and the nature of the relationship of the oppressed and the oppressor.
He returns to Chicago and begins actively organizing in the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, and in the process makes a commitment to fight for the independence of Puerto Rico, for the liberation of Puerto Rico.
BALL: And if I could interrupt you just for a moment, you talked about the tradition that he was a part of. And I just wanted to call out some of the names for those who might not know. And please elaborate for me on any of these. But we’re talking about also a legacy set down by people like Pedro Albizu Campos, and then later Lolita Lebron, and folks who–those are some of the more popular names associated with this struggle. But that’s sort of the tradition that he was coming out of, correct?
ALBA: Absolutely. And the father of the Puerto Rican nation, Ramon Emeterio Betances, who was involved in the liberation of the Caribbean, he organized an uprising against Spain in 1860, 30 years before the United States invasion. Subsequently there were people, the legends, like Aguilar [alamca] who resisted in the invasion in 1898, the reorganization of the nationalist party under Pedro Albizu Campos. And the uprising in 1950 and subsequent other heroes and heroines such as the five nationalists that were freed from U.S. prisons in 1978. Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores, Andres Figueroa Corderro, and [Oscar Collazo]. In the –.
BALL: And I’m sorry to interrupt you again, but that’s such a great story. I mean–again, forgive the interruption. But those five you mentioned, I mean, they ran up in the house of Congress in Washington, DC with guns, demanding that there be freedom and liberation granted to their island. I mean, this was I think an extremely powerful and courageous act, something that seems to not get enough attention or respect.
ALBA: Well, two–it’s actually two, two actions. One in 1950. The one before is 1950, Oscar Collazo, who was a nationalist, attempted to assassinate President Truman in what was then Blair House, which was the temporary residence of the President of the United States while the White House was undergoing renovations.
He and Griselio Torresola attacked Blair House. Griselio Torresola was killed in that action, and Oscar Collazo was arrested. Sentenced to death. The death sentence following a huge, international campaign, was commuted, and he was one of the five nationalists along with Lolita, Rafael and Irving, that were released in 1978.
The Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional began operations taking armed propaganda actions in various institutions of the United States government and its corporate masters in the United States. That began ’75, Oscar Lopez Rivera was arrested in 1981. Never was he linked to any of the military actions. He was never convicted, never linked or convicted to any deaths in the United States. But they assumed the position of prisoners of war. And him and the members of the FALN were convicted of seditious conspiracy.
Very ironic, because you cannot be seditious against the United States when you’re fighting for the liberation of your homeland. You can be seditious if you’re a U.S. citizen that wants to overthrow the United States government in the United States. But you can’t be seditious for wanting the United States to leave your country. That’s a very different situation, and it’s one, in fact, the United States, the nation recognizes wars of liberation against colonialism. Colonialism is the enslavement of a nation. And that’s what Puerto Rico is to the United States, is a slave nation.
BALL: Yeah, we saw here, Vicente, that Jan Susler, Rivera’s attorney, said that his arrest in 1981 was overtly political, and she says that it’s important to see Oscar not as an isolated case but as the latest example of a long trajectory of Puerto Rican resistance to U.S. colonialism, and the extent to which the U.S. will go to try to maintain its colonial control over Puerto Rico.
So Vicente, unfortunately we are out of time in this segment. I need to thank you very much for joining us. And please, if you would give one final comment as to how people can follow up on this case and this history and perhaps get involved in helping free Oscar Lopez Rivera.
ALBA: The way–there are two ways of freeing political prisoners. Through breaking them out of jail–and that has been done with Guillermo Morales. Broken out of Bellevue Hospital, another member of the FALN. Or through political campaigns. It is a sad statement to say that we, the Puerto Rican people, have been the only ones that have freed political prisoners through political campaigns. We freed the nationalists in 1978. We freed another group of FALN prisoners in 1999.
It’s sad to say because there are many political prisoners in the United States that must be freed.
BALL: That’s right.
ALBA: Now, Oscar Lopez, we need to launch a campaign. And the window of opportunity is closing rapidly because as it turns out, Obama, Democratic president, has skirted around the issue. If the election comes to be–the presidential election, you have one of two alternatives. A Democratic presidential candidate getting elected or a Republican. If a Republican gets elected, you forget about Oscar Lopez being released. If a Democratic party candidate gets elected, and it looks like Hillary Clinton will be that candidate, she has already stated her opposition to the release of the FALN prisoners. She did that when her husband released the prisoners in 1999.
BALL: So Vicente, again, apologies having to interrupt here again, but we do have to wrap up this segment. So what I’d like to do is conclude by encouraging people to ramp up the pressure on the current president, and encourage that he in his last couple of years here in office use his lame duck status to do something quite un-lame by pardoning and releasing Oscar Rivera Lopez and all the other political prisoners.
But Vicente Panama Alba, thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News Network. We greatly appreciate you taking the time.
ALBA: Thank you for having us.
BALL: And thank you for watching–.
ALBA: Free Puerto Rico.
BALL: Yes, indeed. Free Puerto Rico. And thank you for watching here at the Real News Network. And for all involved, I’m Jared Ball. And as always, like Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody. Catch you in the whirlwind.
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