One of the top leaders of the Puerto Rican Nationalist party, Oscar López Rivera has been released from prison after spending a devastating 36 years behind bars.
During his final days in office, President Barack Obama’s commuted López Rivera’s 1981 sentence for his involvement with Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (“Armed Forces of National Liberation,” known as FALN.)
The group, which claimed responsibility for bombings in Puerto Rico, New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. during the ’70s and ’80s, has long since advocated for Puerto Rican independence from the United States. While he was never officially tied to the specific bombings, Lopez Rivera was convicted and given 55 years in prison.
The campaign to release the now 74-year old counted Pope Francis and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda among its many supporters.
There is a strong divide among Puerto Ricans over the issue of statehood vs. nationalism, and the release of the famed prisoner brings that debate back to the fore.
Upon López Rivera’s release on the morning of Wednesday, May 17, a crowd gathered outside his daughter’s apartment building in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, holding flowers, flying Puerto Rican flags, and chanting “Free at last!” A choir of singers from the University of Puerto Rico sang as the newly freed man drove past. Thousands more supporters would attend his official release celebration later that day.
However, there is a strong divide among Puerto Ricans over the issue of statehood vs. nationalism, and the release of the famed prisoner brings that debate back to the fore. According to El Diario, Goya Foods reportedly ended a 60-year relationship with the National Puerto Rican Day Parade due to the fact that López Rivera will be honored in this year’s event.
“This decision was a result of an aggressive social media campaign against our company and excellent products, giving us the reason that we were sponsoring a terrorist and member of the FALN [Armed Forces of National Liberation], whose name is Oscar López,” read the letter El Diario said Goya Foods sent to board members of the parade. While the paper has has now removed their reference to the letter, Latino USA‘s coverage still includes a cached screenshot of the report.
Goya Foods told Huff Post that “the letter was false and NOT written by Rafael Toro … or any affiliates of Goya Foods” but instead cited a vague “business decision.”
As a U.S. territory, the island of Puerto Rico does not receive the full benefits of statehood. Islanders are not able to vote in U.S. elections, the territory is in over $70 billion in public debt, and many of the residents live without access clean water, electricity, and approximately 178 schools are set to close after this school year.
López Rivera will be making his first appearance off the island on Thursday, May 18 in Chicago for a march in his honor. He will be receiving an honorary street sign in Humbolt Park, a neighborhood he called home for almost 16 years.