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Wednesday, September 20, 2017
NEW YORK, Jun 1 2015 (IPS) - Children in strollers held placards. Those unable to make it into the streets leaned out of high-rise apartment building windows, shouting support to the river of protestors below. For hours, several city blocks became a mass of red and blue, as scores of people waved the national flag of Puerto Rico. One name was on everyone’s lips, but the cause was broader than a single man.
On Saturday, May 30, close to 4,000 people marched through New York City’s East Harlem demanding the release of Oscar López Rivera, a 72-year-old Puerto Rican activist currently serving out his 34th year in prison.
He was convicted for seditious conspiracy in 1981 and sentenced to 55 years. He is one of the longest held political prisoners in Latin America.
His supporters – who span the globe and number in the millions – run the gamut from community organisations to Nobel laureates. They are petitioning U.S. President Barack Obama to order Rivera’s immediate release on the grounds that he was imprisoned solely for his work as an activist and organizer – and has never been charged with any violent crime.
Other members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) – a political formation dedicated to winning independence for Puerto Rico – arrested alongside Rivera in the 1980s, have since been released after being granted clemency by former president Bill Clinton in 2001.
Given that Puerto Rican communities in the U.S. constitute a significant electorate in certain key states, Obama’s decision could well influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
To the hundreds of faith, labour, community and civic organisations behind Saturday’s march, Rivera’s continued imprisonment is not simply a violation of an individual’s right to free speech and assembly, it is a “betrayal of democracy”.
If Rivera serves out his entire sentence, he will be 84 years old by the time he is released.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
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