The ongoing imprisonment of Oscar López is a betrayal of democracy

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June 1, 2014 Editorial El Nuevo Dia

At 71 years of age and having served 33 years in remote prisons, far away from his country, accused of seditious conspiracy, but never having been found guilty of shedding any blood, Oscar López Rivera is the symbol of a flagrant dishonor for his jailers and an affront to democracy that fails to respect human rights.

Because Oscar López Rivera, beyond his ideology and his aspirations, is a citizen who dedicated two years of his life to active military service, in the Vietnam War, and who rigorously sacrificed himself for the very United States that is now engaged in keeping him isolated, trying to silence the calls for his release and intending to keep him out of the spotlight of worldwide attention.

In spite of the unanimous demands of the people and from every sector, and important voices in the international community, Oscar López is still held in the prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the United States government persists in ignoring the call for the release of this elderly political activist and community leader, so that he can be with his family, mainly his only daughter and his granddaughter.

One must ask why the government of the United States would be so stubborn, a government that boasts of its actions for the rights of political prisoners in the whole world – in Ukraine, with Yulia Timoshenko; in China, with artist Ai Weiwei; in Venezuela, with the opposition leader Leopoldo López; in Cuba, with ex-prisoner Guillermo Fariñas, and even in Russia with the feminist punk group “Pussy Riot” – but in its own country keeps buried alive a Puerto Rican who, from 1986 to 1998, suffered one of the most cruel prison punishments that exists, that of solitary confinement in the prison of Marion, Illinois. In Marion, a super-maximum security prison built in 1963 to replace Alcatraz, which had just closed, Oscar López managed to survive more than a decade with absolutely no contact with his family or friends.

The very fact that, contrary to the criminal justice policies of almost every country in the world, Oscar is held in a prison so distant from Puerto Rico, hindering regular family visits, is a form of incomprehensible torture by a nation which purports to have a humanitarian calling.

President Obama, who claimed to feel moved when he visited the historic cell of Nelson Mandela in Robben Island, South Africa, should know that in the prison at Terre Haute, in Indiana, there is a man accused of the same “crimes” as Mandela – the same legal charge: seditious conspiracy – for which, different from the South African leader, he has served six years longer in prison: Mandela endured 27 years in prison; Oscar López has just marked 33 years in prison.

Obama has the power to release him today, and he should do so. He’s not being asked to pardon, but rather to fulfill a moral mandate of respect for the human condition and, apart from that, an act of dignity, valor, and self-worth for a man of priniciples against whom state vengeance, ideological discrimination, the prostitution of justice, pressure by federal security agencies, and cruelty are imposed without mercy.

The release of Oscar López cannot keep being postponed, and the call for his freedom must continue to be unanimous and not fall into the trap of pessimism or electoral political cabals. Internal affairs of the United States, including its electoral processes, need not matter to anyone when it comes to returning this human being to the land he belongs to, that saw him come to life. He is an older man who has conducted himself in exemplary fashion and who does not deserve to get sick or incapacitated in prison, something that would cause great pain and impotence to his entire people.

The government of the United States is morally impeded from intervening on behalf of any political prisoner, in any place in the world, while the president continues to mock the memory of Mandela, violate civil and political rights and Oscar’s right to freedom.