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Obama Grants Clemency to Oscar López Rivera

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (l) with Oscar López Rivera (center) and Lopez’s brother Jose Lopez. Obama granted clemency to López Rivera this week. /Rep. Gutiérrez

Oscar López Rivera will go free after 35 years in prison, thanks to President Barack Obama’s order granting clemency to the 74-year old imprisoned on charges related to violent activities in support of Puerto Rico independence.

Community activists in Florida, New York and Puerto Rico had stepped up pressure on Obama – wrote, called, held marches – to draw attention to López Rivera.

The president issued the order Tuesday as part of commuting the sentences or pardoning a total of 273 individuals – 209 commutations and 64 pardons, according to the White House.

Clemency Not Pardon

López Rivera, however, was not pardoned for his bomb-making activities in connection with the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional) that is believed to total over 100 bombings, six deaths and many others injured.

A clemency is not a pardon, which means López Rivera’s record is not wiped clean and his rights are not restored.

“These … individuals learned that our nation is a forgiving nation, where hard work and a commitment to rehabilitation can lead to a second chance, and where wrongs from the past will not deprive an individual of the opportunity to move forward,” according to the White House statement.

The Puerto Rican community reacted joyously to the news that López Rivera would be out of federal prison in May.

Read Orlando Latino‘s story on López Rivera here.

Below are reactions from local residents and members of Congress.

Sen. Bernie Sanders:

“I appreciate listening to Puerto Ricans and people worldwide who believe Oscar Lopez Rivera deserves a chance to enjoy his freedom.”

Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.):

“Estoy lleno de alegría y emoción. Oscar es un gran amigo, mentor, y miembro de mi familia…”

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY):

“Pardon of is profoundly important for all Puerto Ricans. At long last, time for Oscar to come home. My profound thanks to for pardoning – an important and powerful move during last days in office.”

Congressman José Serrano (D-NY):

“Thankful to for listening to our community and putting an end to the imprisonment of after 35 years.

Congressman Darren Soto (D-Orlando):

‘We want to congratulate on his new freedom in May. We also want to thank for doing the right thing”.

Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY):

“I commend on today’s decision to pardon , granting him freedom and a second chance.  has long served his time & now will return home to be with his family and loved ones.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló:

“Gracias x escuchar reclamo de los puertorriqueños e indultar a Oscar López.Luego de mucho tiempo,regresa a casa y a su familia.”

Playwright Lin Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”):

“Sobbing with gratitude here in London. OSCAR LOPEZ RIVERA IS COMING HOME. THANK YOU, .”

New York City Council President Melissa Mark Viverito:

‘TONIGHT! In !! We come together to celebrate w/ FAMILIA Oscar’s release. Pass by! 115th St & Park Avenue. 8PM .”

Marcos Vilar, Orlando community organizer-activist:

“Obama just commuted Oscar Lopez Rivera’s sentence!!! Coño!!!! Al fin!!!!!

Christina Marie Hernández, Orlando community organizer-activist:

So proud of the thousands who never gave up.”

Fernando Negrón, Orlando radio host:

“En buena hora Mr Presidente.”

Josephine Balzac, Orlando attorney-activist:

“I’m so proud of everyone who advocated for Oscar’s release, this gives the people of Puerto Rico 🇵🇷hope and sometimes HOPE for CHANGE is all you need!”

Jimmy Torres-Vélez, SEIU organizer:

“Viva el Pueblo.”

 Sami Haiman-Marrero, Orlando community volunteer:

“My heart bursts with happiness again! Obama has pardoned Oscar Lopez!”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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