Will Obama Grant Clemency to Puerto Rican Independence Activist Oscar López Rivera?

Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez says he has lobbied for President Obama to grant clemency to Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, but has so far not received a strong response. López Rivera has been in prison for about 35 years, much of the time in solitary confinement. In 1981, he was convicted on federal charges including seditious conspiracy — of conspiring to oppose U.S. authority over Puerto Rico by force. He was accused of being a member of the FALN, the Armed Forces of National Liberation, which claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings to call attention to the colonial case of Puerto Rico. In 1999, President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 members of the FALN, but López refused to accept the deal because it did not include two fellow activists, who have since been released. In a rare video recording from prison, Oscar López Rivera said the charges against him were strictly political.


AMY GOODMAN: And I just want to clarify the clemency petition for the Puerto Rican independence activist. Oscar López Rivera, for people who don’t know, has been in jail for 35 years, much of the time —


AMY GOODMAN: — in solitary confinement.


AMY GOODMAN: His sentence was commuted by President Clinton. He refused to leave, because others were staying in prison. Those people have left now, and you are asking for that pardon for him.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: So, when I got to — so, Amy, when I got to Congress in ’93 —

AMY GOODMAN: For clemency.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: I began petitioning then-President Clinton. And Clinton was very different than Obama. Clinton would sit down and talk to you as a member of Congress when you went to petition him for a pardon, and he would talk about the political situation, as the rest of his staff. Unfortunately, Obama isn’t quite as forthright and as open in talking about these issues. But today we will stand, and I’m so happy that you put Oscar López’s case in. Yes, so what President Clinton did in 1999, and he said, “I’m releasing 12 of them.” And he offered a release to Oscar López, but there was a 13th, and Oscar López said, “Until all of us are released, I cannot accept the release.” And so he remained in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to — I wanted to end the show with Reverend Barber responding to the farewell address of President Obama.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, thank you so much, Amy. And I want to say, really quickly, I do believe — just jumping back a little bit — that Senator Sessions still believes in assaulting women, because he refused to stand by Loretta Lynch and blocked both of the women, tried to block both of the women that President Obama wanted to appoint to the Supreme Court, including a Latino. So, that’s a form of political assault.

You know, I take the tradition of Martin Luther King and others. The goal of the faith and moral leaders is to challenge and to push our leaders. And President Obama last night tried to say some things to America that weren’t about left and right and conservative versus liberal. Number one, we have to deal with race and class together. You can’t separate the two. When you have —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds, and then we’ll continue after.


AMY GOODMAN: But in your final 10 seconds?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, that’s the first one I just want to say: You can’t separate them. When you have, for instance, 64 million people making less than a living wage and 54 percent of African Americans making less than a living wage, that’s not a race issue and a class issue. It’s both. And we have to have the courage to deal with them both.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s continue this discussion in a web exclusive. People can go online. Reverend William Barber, Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, thanks so much.