The release of Oscar López Rivera

February 17, 2017

For some, he was a fighter, an independence activist.  But for the U.S. government, he was a threat. Oscar Rivera was arrested more than 30 years ago in the United States, on charges of "seditious conspiracy" to overthrow the U.S. government, weapons violation and interstate transportation of stolen property "escape" conspiracy, for which he received a sentence of 70 years in prison[1].

Born in Puerto Rico, López moved to the United States when he was a child.  He later served in the U.S. military and fought in the Vietnam war, for which he earned a bronze star.  It was then that Lopéz came to see the very war in which he fought as an expression of U.S. imperialism.  Upon his return to the U.S. and upon learning about the history of Puerto Rico, he became more and more convinced that his homeland was also a product of U.S. imperialism.  He joined the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional), a group that struggled for Puerto Rico’s independence, and was presumably responsible for over 120 bombings throughout the U.S.

In 1999, then-president Bill Clinton offered a conditional clemency deal to a number of FALN prisoners. But Lopez Rivera refused Clinton’s deal because two of his former FALN colleagues were not on the list of clemency[2].  This time, however, at the age of 74, López Rivera received a pardon from the former U.S. president, Barack Obama and took it. But this event did not come without its pressure[3].  Bernie Sanders campaigned for the freedom of what Sanders and others characterize as the longest serving political prisoner.  And even South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu pleaded with Obama to grant clemency to Mr. López, citing the Bible.  The move to pardon him has even been cause célèbre in the Puerto Rican community.  Mr. López is set to be released in May 2017.

Mr. López neither confirmed nor denied his affiliation with FALN and disavowed any personal involvement in the bombing and deaths.  At his trial, he identified himself as a political prisoner.  At most, he has asserted his right to fight for his beliefs. In an interview with Denver Westworld, López said, that “[b]y international law, a colonized people has the right to fight against colonialism by any means necessary, including the use of force.”[4]





[1] Levin, S. (2017, January 17). Obama commutes sentence for political prisoner Oscar López Rivera. Retrieved January 29, 2017, from

[2] Levine, D. S. (2017, January 18). Oscar Lopez Rivera: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know. Retrieved January 29, 2017, from

[3] See, Hinojosa, M. (2017, January 15). Pardon Sought For Prisoner Who Fought For Puerto Rican Independence. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from

[4] Prendergast, A. (2016, April 02). END OF THE LINE. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from

About Author(s)

marisapr's picture
Marisa is a third-year law student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is pursuing certificates in Health Law and in Latin American Studies. She is interested in gender and race issues and how they affect immigration and immigrant communities. She also does research in public health issues. She has been contributing with articles for Panoramas since 2015.