A Response to the New York Daily NewsPerpetuating False Charges on the1975 Fraunces Tavern BombingBy Jan Susler (January 26, 2012)
Oscar López Rivera, a 69-year-old decorated Vietnam veteran, has spent 31 years in U.S. prison for his commitment to the independence of Puerto Rico. He has the dubious distinction of being the longest held pro-independence prisoner in Puerto Rico's history of seeking self-determination - and thousands preceded him. Convicted of seditious conspiracy in Chicago, he is serving a sentence of 70 years, although he was not convicted of harming or killing anyone.
If you read the New York Daily News article published this year on January 24th, on the 37th anniversary of the bombing of Fraunces Tavern, you wouldn't know this . . . and you would be left with the impression that López Rivera should remain in prison because he is somehow responsible for that tragic action. That is, sadly, what the FBI has led the victims to believe, and it is most certainly the weapon wielded by the FBI in its unceasing efforts to convince the public, the U.S. Parole Commission, and the President, that López Rivera should remain in prison.
López Rivera has denied participation in the 1975 tragedy at Fraunces Tavern. There is no evidence to connect him to it. If the FBI had such evidence, it would surely prosecute him - but in the 37 years since, it has not. Instead, it has waged a campaign of guilt by association, using its bully pulpit to prolong his imprisonment, and thereby punish him for his commitment to the independence of Puerto Rico.
In fact, during his 1981 trial for seditious conspiracy, López Rivera presented no defense in court. Prosecutors risked little, if anything, in charging him on this case. They did not charge him - again, because there simply is not a shred of evidence that could even remotely link him to the Fraunces Tavern event. The New York Daily News has done its readers - and more importantly, truth and justice - a great disservice by implying there is somehow some kind of link between López Rivera and this case, a link that somehow has mysteriously eluded prosecutors, the courts and the FBI for more than 31 years.
A campaign for the release of López Rivera and his co-defendants, which enjoyed broad support throughout Puerto Rican civil society and among the international human rights and faith community, resulted in President Clinton's 1999 offer to commute the sentences of most of them. Most were offered immediate release, but López Rivera would have to serve an additional 10 years behind bars. The others accepted the president's offer, were welcomed as returning heroes in Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican communities in the U.S., and for the past 12 years have lived productive, law-abiding lives. Out of concern that the President's offer did not include all those in prison for their commitment to independence , López Rivera rejected the offer. Had he accepted, he would have been released in September of 2009. Those excluded from the president's offer have since been released - López Rivera is now the only one still in prison from the Chicago seditious conspiracy cases of the 1980s.
That campaign continues to advocate for López Rivera's release from prison. Recent activities in Puerto Rico include mass demonstrations during President Obama's June visit to the Island, calling for his release - and elected officials personally asking the President to release him - ; on the occasion of López Rivera's 69th birthday, the Catholic Archbishop presiding over a mass, and a gathering of representatives from every sector of civil society calling for his release; and students painting murals featuring his face and the message "Freedom Now!" for López Rivera.
In the proud United States tradition of exercising the constitutional power of pardon, three U.S. Presidents have commuted the sentences of Puerto Rican political prisoners: President Truman in 1952, President Carter in 1979, and President Clinton in 1999. President Obama should not be fooled by the FBI's campaign of untruths.For more information about the campaign for Oscar Lopez Rivera's release, contact the National Boricua Human Rights Network at www.boricuahumanrights.org.Jan Susler, a partner at the People's Law Office in Chicago and member of the National Lawyers Guild, has been working as attorney for the Puerto Rican political prisoners for the past 30 years, and was lead counsel in the campaign leading to the 1999 presidential commutation. She continues to work with those who remain in prison. She can be reached at 773-235-0070 x 118 and email@example.com.