- Oscar López Rivera
Puerto Rican independence activist freed last month after serving more than 35 years in prison—much of the time spent in solitary confinement. President Obama commuted his sentence before leaving office in January, and López Rivera was freed on May 17, 2017.
- Juan Cartagena
president and general counsel of LatinoJustice.
Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned for about 35 years, joins us for his first broadcast interview in New York City since he was freed on May 17, 2017. His visit coincides with the city’s long-standing Puerto Rican Day Parade. This year’s organizers chose to honor López Rivera as the parade’s first "National Freedom Hero." But after a boycott campaign was organized by a right-wing conservative group funded by donors close to both President Trump and to Breitbart News, the city’s police chief and a number of corporate sponsors said they will boycott the event. Oscar López Rivera says he will still march, not as an official honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and a grandfather.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, then, along with that, the controversy now that we’ve had over the last few weeks, and which I believe people don’t realize there’s Puerto Rican Day Parades all over the United States. And I think you’re supposed to be participating the following Sunday in the Chicago Puerto Rican Day Parade. So, and Philadelphia has one, Boston, you know, all these cities. So there could conceivably be this same controversy arriving in every city, if all these parades decide to honor you or to have you participate in them. So I’m wondering what your sense is of how the corporations—because it’s not just Coca-Cola and Goya and Jet Blue. It’s the Daily News, where I used to work, also pulled out. NBC, Telemundo also pulled out of the parade. Your sense of how these corporations are trying to impose their perspective on what is acceptable in these Puerto Rican Day Parades?
OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Well, I think that every—every committee that is in charge of a parade has the right to do whatever it deems necessary to do. We have to respect that. It is their power to do so. Now, for me, corporations can do whatever they want to do with their money. That’s their prerogative. But the prerogative of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City to choose whoever or whomever it wants to choose to participate in the parade, it should not be—should not be determined by corporations. We cannot accept that. Let’s let the Puerto Rican community, let the Puerto Rican committee, make its decision, not to be imposed by anyone, not to be accepted, because if we accept impositions, we will never move. We will never feel empowered to do the things that we need to do for our communities and for our people. It’s a question of empowerment. That’s fundamental in this issue. And I think people are overlooking that, because who—who can take the power away from this committee, from the particular committee that chose or decided to honor me?
I do not need the honor, definitely not. I will march in the parade as a very humble Puerto Rican. That’s who I am. I love—I love being—participating in the parade. But what I will detest very, very much is corporations imposing their values or their ideals on a committee that has every power to decide for the Puerto Rican community what its parade should be. If they do—if they were to do that to the Irish Day Parade, I believe that the Irish would be awfully angry at that. It has happened in the past. It has happened in the past. And we should not—we should not—Puerto Ricans should not allow any—in any parade, in any parade, to be dictated who to participate or what to do with the parade.
AMY GOODMAN: Governor Cuomo also said he would not participate. Mayor de Blasio is marching in the parade. And he said, "I’m very happy [that] Mr. López Rivera has declined the honor. I don’t think it should have been offered to him. I think it’s good [that] he declined it because it was entirely distracting from the issue at hand, which is Puerto Rico." He said, "This is one of these things where you watch and recognize the most important thing is getting lost: 3.5 million people are being mistreated by their own government right now, by the U.S. government." What is your response to governor—to Mayor de Blasio saying he will march, but that he’s happy that you declined the honor?
OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Well, if he’s happy, that’s great. I believe, you know, people should be happy. If he’s happy doing that—as long as he doesn’t tell the committee what to do. Now, he’s not telling the parade committee what to do. So, yeah, if he’s happy, great for him.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you decline the honor?
OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: One thing. For me, the issue—the issue became something that then would make the parade less—less functional. It would divide people. There is no reason for that. And so, for me—for me, it was a question of who should be honored. And I think the Puerto Rican people should be honored. I believe that it should be a day of celebration for all Puerto Ricans, something that we can enjoy, something that we can really, really celebrate. And that’s, for me, what matters the most. And I’ll be marching in the parade.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And are you welcoming other people to join you, as well?
OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: I have asked many, many people to, and they’re coming from Puerto Rico, they’re coming from Chicago, they’re coming from Pennsylvania. So, even from Orlando, there will be some Puerto Ricans coming that we have invited. So, hopefully, more and more Puerto Ricans will participate this year than the last year. So let’s hope for that.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you want to see for Puerto Rico now?
OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Well, I think that Puerto Rico should be seen as a place where decolonization can take place. I see Puerto Rico at a moment when the United States government has finally admitted the Puerto Rico is a colony. So, for us, it’s not the problem that we had before. For us, decolonization is possible. One of the things that I have talked about is that the common denominator among Puerto Ricans who love Puerto Rico is the love for Puerto Rico, and that decolonization could bring all Puerto Ricans, from the diaspora and from Puerto Rico, together to decolonize Puerto Rico, just based on the fact that we love Puerto Rico, that Puerto Rico is our promised land, that we need Puerto Rico to be decolonized. Colonialism is a crime. We should erase that. We should erase that and allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their self-determination and to make Puerto Rico the nation that it has the potential of being.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much, Oscar López Rivera, for taking this time on this—on your time in New York, as you march in the Puerto Rican Day Parade, to make this your first interview in this visit. Thank you. Oscar López Rivera is a Puerto Rican independence activist who was freed last month after serving 35 years in prison. And we want to ask Juan Cartagena to stay, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice. I know you have many official visits to make and must leave the studio now. Thank you so much.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Thank you.
OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: "Siempre con Puerto Rico," "Always with Puerto Rico," by Amaury Pérez Vidal. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Before we talk about the testimony of James Comey, we wanted to end our conversation with Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Juan, I wanted to ask you, again, about the situation with the parade now—
JUAN CARTAGENA: Sure, sure.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —and the enormous controversy and firestorm that’s resulted and how many leaders in the Puerto Rican community are reacting, because there’s been a lot of attention on the corporations that have pulled out.
JUAN CARTAGENA: Sure.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But there are hundreds of community organizations that regularly participate in the parade, and, to my knowledge, none of them have pulled out.
JUAN CARTAGENA: That’s correct.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, I wanted to get your sense of the impact on the community of this enormous firestorm over López Rivera being there.
JUAN CARTAGENA: Well, I think it’s galvanizing many more people to show up for the parade. I mean, it’s one of these things that everyone recognizes, that "Who are the corporations to tell us who to recognize and who to honor?"
I want to flip this around for a quick second: Could you imagine having this parade in June of 2017 and not inviting Oscar López Rivera? The criticism on the parade committee would have been just as big. We understand that he’s a symbol of so many things, including resistance, that having him in the parade is just another way to elevate not only his personal story, but also elevate all we are as a people.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, didn’t the committee for years call for his release?
JUAN CARTAGENA: Of course. Of course. It’s the same—the same—
AMY GOODMAN: The Puerto Rican Day Parade committee.
JUAN CARTAGENA: —the same—of course. And this is the same committee that applauded Lolita Lebrón watching the parade, the same committee that dedicated a parade one year to Don Pedro Albizu Campos. So we’re talking about an amalgamation of individuals for various viewpoints of the status of the island having that ability to be recognized by a parade.
AMY GOODMAN: And for young people who don’t know who Don Pedro Albizu Campos was?
JUAN CARTAGENA: Albizu Campos, a nationalist leader of Puerto Rico, who was a famous attorney and dedicated his entire life to the independence of Puerto Rico, and was also, by the way, convicted of sedition. And Oscar said it so well today. Up until the 1980s, for 50 years, the crime of seditious conspiracy was only lodged against Puerto Rican independentistas. So it’s an amazing place to be now that he’s finally free and able to talk about these things.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And so, and what—and the reactions of the politicians, of Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, Chuck Schumer?
AMY GOODMAN: Governor Cuomo won’t be marching?
JUAN CARTAGENA: Governor Cuomo won’t be marching.
AMY GOODMAN: Schumer will not be marching.
JUAN CARTAGENA: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Schumer’s not marching.
JUAN CARTAGENA: Yeah, Schumer’s not marching. Governor—
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor de Blasio is?
JUAN CARTAGENA: Mayor de Blasio is. Of course, Melissa Mark-Viverito will be front and center. She has been a champion of this cause for so long. She needs to be applauded. And so many other elected officials will be there.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And she actually—she welcomed Oscar López at the airport last night. She went there to—
JUAN CARTAGENA: I’m sure she would, and I’m sure she did, because that’s exactly who she is. I understand the Bronx borough president, Rubén Díaz Jr., will be there. There will be many people. And Oscar said it so well today. This is a celebration of the entire diaspora and the people of Puerto Rico. There are many other honorees. There’s incredible honorees from music, from baseball, up and down the line. So I look forward to marching, and we all look forward to being Puerto Rican for a day.
AMY GOODMAN: The Yankees pulled out?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, the Yankees also pulled—they were one of the first ones to pull out, yes. Not unexpected.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Juan Cartagena.
JUAN CARTAGENA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: And final comments that you have on this very significant day, that is not only the day of the New York Puerto Rican Day Parade, but it’s also the day of the plebiscite in Puerto Rico, that several of the parties are boycotting.
JUAN CARTAGENA: Sure, and the ironies are just enormous here, right? We’re celebrating a day in which we, as a country, try to celebrate yearly. And this is an amazing opportunity for us to elevate the voices of so many Puerto Ricans across the board. The fact that I get to see Oscar López Rivera free, after I visited him in the penitentiary in 2015 with Natasha Bannan from my office, who’s also the president of the National Lawyers Guild—we both went with his attorney, whose name needs to be elevated all the time. Jan Susler—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jan Susler.
JUAN CARTAGENA: —is an amazing attorney. And what she has done to ensure his commutation is something that has to be applauded. So we thank her. And I actually lived to see the day that Oscar can breathe as freely as anybody can in a colonial regime.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this is the—you’re mentioning a colonial regime. This is the 100th anniversary of the imposition—
JUAN CARTAGENA: 1917.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —of U.S. citizenship by the U.S. Congress—
JUAN CARTAGENA: Correct.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —in 1917, and a citizenship that was imposed despite the complete opposition of the elected leaders of Puerto Rico–
JUAN CARTAGENA: Exactly.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —who voted against it. It was still imposed on Puerto Rico.
JUAN CARTAGENA: That’s right, Juan, another level of contradiction.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, still Puerto Ricans cannot vote for president of the United States.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes.
JUAN CARTAGENA: That’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, thanks so much.
JUAN CARTAGENA: Thank you. Thank you, both of you, for doing this.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice.