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Oscar López Rivera was born in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico on January 6, 1943. His family moved to the U.S. when he was an adolescent, and—like many young Latino and African American men—he was drafted into the U.S. army; his service in Viet Nam earned him the Bronze Star. When he returned from the war in 1967, he immediately set to work organizing to improve the quality of life for his people, helping to create both the Puerto Rican High School and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center of Chicago, Illinois. Eventually, however, Oscar and other young Puerto Ricans—inspired by heroic guerilla movements throughout the world—decided that their work for the independence of Puerto Rico could best be conducted in clandestine fashion. López Rivera was arrested in 1981, and ultimately sentenced to 55 years for the thought crime of seditious conspiracy; his release date is 2027, when he will be 84 years old. From 1986 to 1998, he was held in the most super maximum security prisons in the federal prison system, in conditions not unlike those at Guantanamo under which “enemy combatants” are held—conditions which the International Red Cross have called tantamount to torture. Over López Rivera’s long years behind bars, he has become a talented and prolific artist whose drawings and paintings form part of an itinerant exhibit, Not Enough Space, along with fellow independentista Carlos Alberto Torres. He has also authored a chapter, “A Century of Colonialism: One Hundred Years of Puerto Rican Resistance,” in Joy James’ Warfare in the American Homeland.

UPDATE: President Obama commutes sentence for political prisoner Oscar López Rivera

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Oscar Lopez Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance
Author: Oscar López Rivera
Editor: Luis Nieves Falcón
Foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Introduction by Matt Meyer
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-685-8
Published February 2013
Format: Paperback
Size: 8.5 by 5.5
Page count: 160 Pages
Subjects: Politics–Activism/History–Puerto Rico

“Listening to Oscar’s voice in this book makes something clear that one such as Nelson Mandela would know well: his sense of liberty has not been extinguished by the jailers’ bars or the torturers on call.”
—Celina Romany-Siaca, former president, Puerto Rican Bar Association

“The story of Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera told in this book is a story of the lengths to which our government will go to punish and silence voices of liberation. But it is also the story of the courage of one man who perseveres in his hunger and thirst for justice.”
—Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, founding president, Pax Christi USA

The story of Puerto Rican leader Oscar López Rivera is one of courage, valor, and sacrifice. A decorated Viet Nam veteran and well-respected community activist, López Rivera now holds the distinction of being one of the longest held political prisoners in the world. Behind bars since 1981, López Rivera was convicted of the thought-crime of “seditious conspiracy,” and never accused of causing anyone harm or of taking a life. This book is a unique introduction to his story and struggle, based on letters between him and the renowned lawyer, sociologist, educator, and activist Luis Nieves Falcón.

In photographs, reproductions of his paintings, and graphic content, Oscar’s life is made strikingly accessible—so all can understand why this man has been deemed dangerous to the U.S. government. His ongoing fight for freedom, for his people and for himself (his release date is 2027, when he will be 84 years old), is detailed in chapters which share the life of a Latino child growing up in the small towns of Puerto Rico and the big cities of the U.S. It tells of his emergence as a community activist, of his life underground, and of his years in prison. Most importantly, it points the way forward.

With a vivid assessment of the ongoing colonial relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, it provides tools for working for López Rivera’s release—an essential ingredient if U.S.-Latin American relations, both domestically and internationally, have any chance of improvement. Between Torture and Resistance tells a sad tale of human rights abuses in the U.S. which are largely unreported. But it is also a story of hope—that there is beauty and strength in resistance.

"In spite of the fact that here the silence from outside is more painful than the solitude inside the cave, the song of a bird or the sound of a cicada always reaches me to awaken my faith and keep me going." —Oscar López Rivera

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About, Interviews and Mentions

oscarOscar Lopez Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance
By Guillermo Rebollo-Gil
November 28th, 2014

Dear President Obama:

Here in Puerto Rico, your lunch with now Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla is commemorated by way of a small plaque on the table in the restaurant where you paid cash for a sandwich in a button-down white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I presume that restaurant owners placed the plaque there because customers might want to sit at the same table where the President of the United States ate a sandwich—they might even want to have their picture taken there. They’re probably right: people often enjoy imbuing everyday activities with historical significance, even when the historical event in question here was not all that significant, when compared to the kinds of things that usually make up the history of nations and so forth. Several months after you left, the island government unveiled a statue of you across the street from the Capitol building in San Juan, next to statues of all the other Presidents who had visited Puerto Rico in the history of American colonial rule over the island. They’re not that many. And there’s no record of what they ate, I don’t think.

I share this because, like so many here, I have a somewhat distorted notion of history and of the events that comprise it...

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oscarOscar Lopez Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance
By Ian Sinclair
September 2013

The book is strongest when Rivera is reflecting on his physical and psychological imprisonment. 'They will never be able to break my spirit or my will. Every day I wake up alive is a blessing', he affirms. Activists involved with political prisoners will be interested to see that activism does make a difference - his conditions improved in 1997 because of pressure being applied to the US government, he says. And all activists will surely be heartened by Rivera's seemingly never-ending resolve: 'It is much easier not to struggle, to give up and take the path of the living dead. But if we want to live, we must struggle.'

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oscarPuerto Rican Independentista Oscar López Rivera's 32 Years of Resistance to Torture
By Hans Bennett
Upside Down World & Insubordination
May 30th, 2013

“They will never be able to break my spirit or my will. Every day I wake up alive is a blessing.” – Oscar López Rivera, 2006

"In 2011, the denial of parole to Oscar López Rivera outraged the leaders of Puerto Rico’s political and civil society, who publicly denounced the ruling. One critic, Puerto Rico’s non-voting U.S. congressional representative,  Pedro Pierluisi, said, “I don’t see how they can justify another 12 years of prison after he has spent practically 30 years in prison, and the others who were charged with the same conduct are already in the free community. It seems to me to be excessive punishment.”

In response to the parole denial, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined Nobel Laureates Máiread Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina, to send a letter to US President Barack Obama expressing their concern about his parole hearing..."

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More from Oscar...

  • Check out Democracy Now!'s coverage of the 32 Days for 32 Years Project and the call to release Oscar Lopez Rivera from Prison

  • 32 Days for 32 Years Project

The National Boricua Human Rights Network & the Batey Urbano are pleased and excited to announce the opening of “32 Days for 32 Years” an interactive exhibit about Oscar López Rivera, who marks his 32nd year of his incarceration on May 29, 2013. Oscar was arrested in 1981, accused of seditious conspiracy and sentenced to 70 years in federal prison.

The purpose of this exhibit is to call attention to Oscar’s continued, unjust incarceration. He is the longest held Puerto Rican Political Prisoner in Puerto Rico’s (Latin America’s) history. The National Boricua Human Rights Network has simulated the isolation by recreating a 6’x9’ foot cell– Oscar’s living quarters for the past 32 years. One participant per day has volunteered to live, eat, and sleep in this space for 24 hours. 32 participants plus guards and caterers for over a month. Over 100 members of the community will protest for Oscar’s freedom. For more information about the exhibit click HERE.

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