Between Torture and Resistance by Oscar Lopez Rivera

oscar

PM Press 2013

A brief Preface by Matt Meyer, an anti-imperialist activist and author, outlines and explains how the rest of the book is put together.  The Foreward is by Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu who begins by describing the effects of colonialism in Africa, then the South African struggle.  He goes on to describe how Puerto Rico continues to be colonized, and how Oscar Lopez Rivera’s continued imprisonment reminds us of this.  He ends critiquing retributive justice, advocating restorative justice, and invokes Isiah, writing, “to set free those who are bound.”  and gives a blessing for those who struggle “for justice with peace.”

 

The Introduction is by the editor, Dr. Luis Nieves Falcon. Dr. Falcon begins by outlining the loss of individual liberties for U$ citizens, at the same time as the government has become characterized by its lack of respect for both domestic and international law. Dr. Falcon goes on to write about how in 1937 antisedition legislation from the U$ Civil War started to be used against the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico and how as the political climate changed, the Cold War and current policies are described.

Dr. Falcon writes about some of the reasons people have become political prisoners (PPs) in the U$, then focuses on the treatment of Puerto Rican PPs. Following this are the charges of Puerto Rican PPs against the U$ government, ending with a call for Oscar’s freedom.

An Introduction to the English Version is written by Matt Meyer and Rev. Nozomi Ikuta, beginning with a three paragraph quote from the National Lawyers Guild’s Jan Susler’s presentation to the United Nations (UN) Decolonization Committee Hearings on Puerto Rico in 2012. Susler shows the hypocrisy of U$ government officials praising Burma’s release of PPs while ignoring this UN Committee’s resolution to release Puerto Rican independenistas held in the U$.

Meyer and Rev. Ikuta start by pointing out how “An entire generation has been born and come o age since Oscar Lopez Rivera was arrested on May 29, 1981.” Though many things have happened since then, they write “today more males of African descent are currently behind bars than were enslaved in the years prior to the Civil War” showing the racial divide still exists. They go on to explain how Puerto Rico remains a colony, and why people in the U$ need to understand this.

The first chapter, Life Experiences: 1943-1976 begins with four paragraphs of excerpted court proceedings and a letter from Oscar to his daughter Clarisa. Here you start to get an idea about his ideology; using Boricua for Puerto Rico, a lower case “i” when referring to himself and writing of love and compassion remaining with him.

Afterwards, the editor starts telling Oscar’s story, beginning with his January 6, 1943 birth in the Barrio Aibonito of San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, his family’s emigration to Chicago, his being drafted and subsequent tour of duty in Vietnam and resultant radicalization, both cultural and anti-colonialist.

His return to Chicago and college and then the beginning of his community work via the Northwest Community Organization (NCO) are recorded. Then the beginning of his romantic relationship with Justina Ramos and the birth of his only daughter, Clarisa, and the broadening of his activism, including co-founding the Pedro Albizu Campos High School (PACHS) and the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Canter (PRCC), work with the Spanish Coalition for Jobs and the co-founding of the Spanish Coalition For Housing.

All of this activism and more between 1969-76 is used to show how Oscar had tried to use every possible legal means to try to create lasting social change in Chicago. Then Dr. Falcon goes back to the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico’s 1950 founding of a Nationalist Board in Chicago, and Oscar’s involvement in it.

Other political happenings and developments in Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, at least one of which Oscar missed, are recorded preceding his joining the National Hispanic Commission of the Episcopal Church in 1973. The chapter ends with Grand Jury investigations regarding the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN in Spanish) which included the jailing of members of the National Hispanic Commission of the Episcopal Church.

The Next chapter is Time Underground: 1976-1981. Threatened with arrest by the FBI, Oscar decided to go underground with three of his comrades. Dr. Falcon makes a point of contextualizing this as part of a long tradition, dating back to the beginning of Christianity. It’s a very short section mainly just describing the stress and sacrifice of being underground along with the heat it brings down on family and friends.

The next chapter is Court Proceedings. After some information regarding Oscar’s case and that of 11 of his comrades arrested the year before, there’s a statement of his declaring himself a prisoner of war (POW), denouncing the trial, and explaining why Puerto Rico is a colony. Following the statement is a poem to Oscar from Carlos Quiles entitled A Man in Prison.

The next section, The Torture of Imprisonment, begins with a brief quote from Oscar, “The memory of our pain deserves to be appreciated, remembered, and never denied.” Dr. Falcon starts to describe Oscar’s imprisonment, “total isolation, sensory deprivation, and the degrading frequency of the naked full-body searches” before starting to weave in lengthier quotes from Oscar, beginning with one about the broad support from their own people that Puerto Rican PPs and POWs get.

Dr. Falcon goes on to show how Oscar’s treatment in prison fits in with how Puerto Rican PPs and POWs are treated in general, before returning to the subject of Oscar’s imprisonment with medical mistreatment and theft by the prison staff. He goes on to write about the June 18, 1986 FBI entrapment of Oscar for allegedly planning to escape with FBI informants who had been sent into his unit. This is followed by an excerpt from the court proceedings. In this excerpt, Oscar addresses the jury describing U$ colonialism in Puerto Rico and compares the status of Puerto Ricans to those of slaves in the U$.

Dr. Falcon writes about how Oscar was sentenced to an additional 15 years and moved to Marion prison. He writes about the sensory deprivation, extended isolation, and frequent strip searches Oscar was subjected to, before excerpting an Official Report of USP Marion that described Oscar in very positive terms. Though he worked in prison as a barber an orderly, they wouldn’t transfer him because he refused to work as prison laborer for profit at near slave wages. Later in the book Oscar writes he wouldn’t work at the factory there specifically because it produced war materials.

Then there is an extended account by Oscar of his prison living conditions where he characterizes his treatment as “spiritcide.” He also writes about some of the simple pleasures of life that can be at least occasionally enjoyed like listening to the birds sing in the yard and painting. Having five years of written material confiscated and not returned read like one of the worst possible things to me. He also gets philosophical, writing about self-realization and the toll of material and spiritual poverty.

After a short quote from Oscar about the importance of struggle, Dr. Falcon starts the next chapter, Life Is A Constant Struggle, with explaining how the international attention the illegal repression at Marion was attracting, it was downgraded to medium-security and many major changes happened.

unfortunately, this was smoke and mirrors for Oscar. He was simply transferred to the prison then newly considered the worst, in Florence, Colorado. Oscar writes about the wide community support for the prison in Florence, then about his living conditions there. Afterwards is his granddaughter Karina’s account of visiting him. There’s a series of pictures of Oscar, his family, art work and banner drops by his supporters then it returns to his account of being incarcerated in Florence.

Oscar’s relationship with his family is returned to, this time through letters. His views on Puerto Rican politics including the campaign for his freedom are also written about, then returning to his prison conditions including a transfer to another unit and why he appreciated that.

After completing a year required for transfer, 13 other prisoners were allowed to pick which prison they would go to, but Oscar was forced to go back to Marion where conditions had regressed. He strategized with his supporters on the outside, but retaliations continued. Through it all, Oscar was still able to relate this all to the colonization of Puerto Rico, and remained concerned with his family’s well-being.

Oscar’s 1998 transfer to Terre Haute Prison is covered, including a report from his granddaughter Karina about Oscar’s improving conditions and continued hardships.

The next year’s continued growth of the demand for Oscar’s release in Puerto Rico is covered including the text of Father Angel Dario Carrero’s Boricua Easter Proclamation calling for the release of PPs, which included 15 Puerto Ricans at the time. The release of the film Libertad para los nuestros and the largest demonstration in Puerto Rican history, both of which were for Puerto Rican PPs occured in August 1999.

Pres. Clinton’s granting of parole under certain conditions, also in 1999 is explained. Prison conditions in the late ’90s and early 2000s are covered next, including many lockdowns in 2006. That same year the U$ government publicly worked to free PPs in several countries, simultaneously refusing to free its Puerto Rican PPs.

The last chapter stats with Oscar’s January 2011 application to the U.S. Parole Board, Oscar an Dr. Falcon’s hopes for the future, and the poem Oscar Lopez Rivera by Juan Camacho.

For more information on Oscar’s case, please check: http://boricuahumanrights.org/

For further reading on Puerto Rican Independence, please check out Prisoners of Colonialism: The Struggle for Justice in Puerto Rico by Ronald Fernandez, Liberator Lolita by Yaz and/or this website: http://september23.org/. For an interesting book about the struggle by a white solidarity activist who was also forced underground, please check out Arm the Spirit: A Story From the Underground and Back by Diana Block.

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