By Alberto Rodríguez for the Puerto Rico Subcommittee
May 2014 was an exciting and historic month in the three-decade long campaign to free Oscar López Rivera. Oscar is the longest held Puerto Rican political prisoner convicted in U.S. federal court for seditious conspiracy for his commitment to Puerto Rican independence. Guild members in New York City represented the campaign National Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 8.
The Guild’s Puerto Rico Subcommittee has long supported Oscar and other Puerto Rican political prisoners, adopting organizational resolutions and by calling upon multiple administrations for his release. The Free Oscar campaign was also present at last year’s Convention in San Juan.
Commemorating his 33 years in captivity, the campaign for his release organized La Caminata Nacional: 33 en 33 x Oscar (33 in 33 Walk for Oscar). The walk began April 27 and toured 33 towns in 33 days to raise awareness and gather support for his release.
Each day one town was connected with another in a 333-mile walk through winding mountainous roads. While a small, hearty core group of activists and supporters participated in consecutive daily walks, locals from each town joined in to add their own flavor. Eclectic groups of often hundreds of participants included young people, seniors, athletes, students, unions, musicians, civic and religious groups, elected officials, pro-independence activists, and supporters of the current U.S. commonwealth status of Puerto Rico as well as statehood supporters.
As the walk in the mountains was underway, another event took place in San Juan called Al Mar x Oscar (“To the Sea for Oscar”), inspired by a letter from prison to his granddaughter Karina, in which he wrote, “… after family, what I miss the most is the sea. It’s been 35 years since the last time I saw it.” On a beautiful Sunday afternoon on May 25, hundreds marched along the waterfront of Old San Juan while row boats, paddle boats, rafts, kayaks, fishing boats, jet skis – practically anything that could float – accompanied them.
On May 29 the Caminata arrived in front of the Federal Building in San Juan after successfully visiting 33 towns in 33 days. In solidarity with the Caminata, Oscar also walked 333 miles in those 33 days in the prison yard.
The Puerto Rican people have sent a powerful message to the White House that we want Oscar released from U.S. custody now. In the midst of the worst economic crisis the island has experienced in decades – high energy and food costs, mass exodus to the U.S., primarily of the young and the educated, a crumbling education and health system, a rise in crime and the insecurity and anxiety it creates – Oscar has not been forgotten, and the call for his release is front-and-center.
Here in Puerto Rico, there is a mass sense of optimism and faith that President Obama will do the right and just thing and release Oscar. This optimism is not idealistic or unfounded but very much rooted in a proud history of witnessing our political prisoners walking out of the gates of U.S. prisons. Here, there is faith in the power of a united Puerto Rican people demanding in one loud, clear and unwavering voice “Free Oscar Now!”
Photo: A scene of the Caminata on May 25. (Cultura Profética)