“The U.S. government categorically denies it has political prisoners in its gulags. It does it primarily to cover up the nefarious, barbaric and even criminal acts and practices it carries out against us and other regular prisoners, and to do it with impunity. It uses the denial as its license to violate our most basic human rights by subjecting us to isolation and sensory deprivation regimens that are nothing less than cruel and unusual punishment. It uses it to hoodwink its own citizens to believe that it doesn’t criminalize dissenters or opponents of its wars and other imperialistic practices. It does it to perpetuate the lie that it is the ultimate defender of freedom, justice, democracy and human rights in the world. And it uses it at times to further criminalize the political prisoners and/or our families and to disconnect us from our families, communities, supporters and the just and noble causes we served and try to continue serving.” -Oscar López Rivera
Nice words from President Obama about Nelson Mandela the other day, eh...and from all the other old USA presidents, too. Of course, they are just words, words we didn't hear from Presidents much during Mandela's long years in prison, during the struggle against apartheid. Words that were never matched with deeds.
And then there is Oscar Lopez Rivera. As elcomunista.net puts it:
There is no question about the greatness of Nelson Mandela, but many choose to ignore those very same qualities of Oscar López Rivera who fights for the same ideals of human rights and equality that Nelson Mandela fought for.
Oscar López Rivera has been imprisoned for 32 years by the government of the United States for fighting for the decolonization of Puerto Rico. This is already 5 years more than the time Nelson Mandela spent in prison. Under international law, it is the government of the United States that commits the crime for having Puerto Rico as its colony for 115 years, and it is Oscar who has the right to decolonize his country using whatever means necessary! The United Nations has already asked the United States to immediately decolonize Puerto Rico in 32 resolutions. The US has ignored them all! But, the US is quick to criticize other nations, like South Africa, for their lack of equality and human rights abuses. US Congress Representative of New York NydiaVelázquez said recently, “The United States has no right to demand peace in the world, when she does not practice it herself.”
Obama acknowledged that political prisoners exist, but in his eulogy of Mandela,there was no mention of those in USA prisons. Of course, there are no political prisoners in the USA, only criminals and terrorists.
The charge against Oscar is "seditious conspiracy." He has never been convicted of injuring anyone.
In 1999, an unbroken Oscar Lopez Rivera turned down an offer of conditional clemency. He said it would be like being prison outside of prison.
Oscar was accused of being a member of the FALN, The Armed Forces of National Liberation. He was accused conspiring to oppose the USA colonization of Puerto Rico. As Oscar himself has put it:
I think the fact that I was charged with seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States speaks for itself. But the charge in reference to Puerto Ricans has always been used for political purposes. It goes back to 1936. The first time that a group of Puerto Ricans was put in prison was by using the seditious conspiracy charge. And this has always been a strictly political charge used against Puerto Ricans.
In 2011, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa wrote to Obama after López was denied parole asking that Oscar's sentence be commuted. Desmond Tutu wrote:
After more than 30 years, Oscar López Rivera is in prison for the crime of seditious conspiracy, conspiring to free his people from the shackles of imperial injustice. Now is the time for his immediate and unconditional release. In working for reconciliation and peace, we once again feel compelled to repeat the biblical call of Isaiah to set free those who are bound. May God bless all of us in our efforts for justice with peace.
What did happen was more of the same. As the People's Law Office puts the matter:
The U.S. has not been satisfied with merely incapacitating Oscar by holding him all those years in prison. Prison officials immediately labeled him a “notorious and incorrigible criminal” and the FBI, using informants/provocateurs, targeted him in attempts to further criminalize him and legitimize his transfer to the most maximum security prisons, where he was subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation, labeled as a predator, and “the worst of the worst.”
For more than 12 years, he was held at the notorious high security U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, and its successor, the Administrative Maximum Unit [ADX] at Florence, Colorado. At ADX, Oscar writes, “some of us were subjected to a sleep deprivation regimen that was pure and simple torture. I experienced it for 58 days and my sleeping patterns were so badly damaged that I still have serious problems sleeping.”
At Marion and ADX, he was also the target of constant harassment such as cell searches, confiscation of reading and art materials, and placement in hot cells where there was contraband in order to issue us infractions, send us to the hole, and force us to start the “stepdown” program [to win transfer to a lower security prison] all over again.
The extreme, prolonged isolation, which causes psychological and physical deterioration, has been widely condemned as violating international human rights standards.16 Indeed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has declared that “segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” and that “indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition.”
In 1998, after more than 12 years in total isolation — with his mental faculties and sense of humor very much intact, and with his self-taught art skills quite honed, despite every effort to break him — he was finally moved to a regular maximum security prison. Prison officials, however, imposed a special condition, requiring him to report his whereabouts every two hours to prison guards. The condition, which was to last for 18 months, has now been in place for a record-breaking 14 years.
In spite of prison policy permitting bedside visits and attendance at funerals, and ignoring letters of support from ministers and elected officials, prison authorities refused to let Oscar attend the bedsides of his ailing mother, father or older sister, and refused to let him attend any of their funerals. During those trying times, prison authorities even refused to allow him to purchase extra telephone time, limiting further his already restricted contact with his family.
Since 1999, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has denied all media requests to interview Oscar, in spite of policy allowing for media interviews of prisoners, in spite of allowing media interviews of other prisoners, and in spite of having allowed Oscar to be interviewed many times previously, without incident. Each rejection has used the identical, unsubstantiated excuse that “the interview could jeopardize security and disturb the orderly running of the institution.” This ban, preventing his voice from reaching his people and his community of supporters, harkens to bans imposed by other governments and regimes once regarded as anti-democratic.
Since 2011, the government has extended this ban beyond media, rejecting requests by New York elected officials to meet with Oscar. Insisting that they will not be rebuffed, U.S. Congressman Luis Gutiérrez [D- Ill.], who has been allowed to visit, told the press, “He is our longest held political prisoner, and we aren’t going to accept no for an answer.”
In 2011, the FBI actively intervened to prevent his release on parole, hijacking the hearing by anti-terrorist fear-mongering in order to influence an adverse decision, all the while attempting to humiliate Oscar. Eight prison officials — an exaggerated and intentionally intimidating presence — hovered near a chained and handcuffed Oscar as the hearing examiner improperly allowed live testimony from four people he wrongly characterized as “victims” — a wounded survivor and family members of people who died in a1975 explosion in New York — who spewed FBI-sown hatred in Oscar’s face. Knowing full well that Oscar was never accused or convicted of anything related to the explosion, this testimony formed a significant basis for the parole commission’s order denying parole and ordering a reconsideration hearing 15 years hence, in January 2026, when Oscar will be 83 years old.
The last 14 years I have spent in this gulag, Terre Haute. And the harassment has not stopped. Several times my art materials have been confiscated or lost, art work destroyed, family visits stopped, and I still have to report to the jailers every two hours. In those 14 years, in spite of all the provocations and harassment, the jailers haven’t been able to accuse me of committing any infractions. But that doesn’t stop them from doing what they’ve been doing to me for the past 31 years. And I’m fairly certain the other political prisoners continue experiencing the same treatment and conditions. It could be argued that government’s denial of our existence has worked. But our wills and spirits are strong enough to continue resisting and struggling.
The following is a short letter written to his family by Oscar. I present it as a reminder that above it all Oscar remains a humble, kind, strong, caring man. They cannot break Oscar. They can hurt him. They can hurt us who love him, but he is far too strong for them to break.
Their words at the memorial for Nelson Mandela should stick in their throats.
The following is from Global Voices and is presented for Scission Prison Friday.