Will Oscar López Rivera Go Home?

Poster that is part of the campaign to free Puerto Rican nationalist and prisoner Oscar López Rivera. At left, the wild-haired look of 1980 and the kindly grandfather look of today.

Will President Barack Obama grant clemency to Oscar López Rivera?

That is the question on the minds of many Puerto Ricans as the clock runs out on the Obama presidency.

López Rivera, soon to turn 74, has spent 35 years in jail after a conviction on charges of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Puerto Rican pro-independence group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional or FALN, of which he was a leader.

Presidential Prerogative

Presidents have the power to pardon, grant clemencies, commute sentences or rescind a fine. These often happen during the last days or hours of a presidency.  President Jimmy Carter granted clemency to Puerto Rican nationalists Lolita LebrónRafael Cancel Miranda and Irving Flores Rodríguez for their assault on Congress. He commuted the sentence of Oscar Collazo, also a part of this group, to time served, after Harry Truman, who Collazo tried to assassinate, commuted his death sentence to a life sentence.

The Puerto Rican community and leaders have every right to push for López Rivera’s release but not on the specious grounds that he is innocent. He is not, nor does a presidential pardon or clemency require him to be innocent.

Oscar López Rivera

Bombs were the MO of the FALN and Oscar López Rivera is a skilled bomb maker. His hands may not have been covered with dynamite powder on the day he was apprehended – after being on the lam for several years – but that doesn’t mean he’s not guilty. Claiming he is innocent is an invitation to relitigate the case for which he was soundly convicted. There is no “win” in that.

The better argument is that he ought to be released for having served 35 years, which is more than most people who have been similarly charged.

But he is not entitled to it.

Convicted Twice

López Rivera was convicted twice, once in 1981 for “seditious conspiracy,” which sounds harmless but involved “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.” What’s more, the FALN has been connected to over 100 bombings that claimed six lives and left many others injured.

He was convicted a second time in 1988 for conspiracy to escape prison, for which he was given an additional 15-year sentence.

Big Obstacle

He faces an even bigger obstacle: In 1999 López Rivera refused a conditional clemency offered by President Bill Clinton. That is why he sits in jail today, though many of his FALN counterparts were released long ago.

He wanted to play martyr.

Each president uses up political capital when granting pardons and clemencies. That’s why the controversial candidates come at the end. Clinton expended some capital on behalf of López Rivera and was refused, a rare occurrence.

Is it likely the same prisoner will be offered clemency twice? Will Obama take that risk?

Post 9-11 World

López Rivera was offered a get-out-of-jail-free card in a pre 9-11 world. We now live in a post 9-11 world, in which terrorism and fear of terrorism is all too real. Why would a second president help Oscar López Rivera?

As of this writing, Obama has commuted or pardoned the sentences of over 1,300 people, mostly for minor drug-related offenses – nothing related to seditious conspiracy, much less terrorism.

But from time to time Obama goes rogue. That’s why Oscar López Rivera has a 50-50 chance of going home.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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