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Boston Puerto Ricans Celebrate Independence Fighter Oscar López Rivera, Given Clemency By Obama02:54
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Military leaker Chelsea Manning is not the only person to have a prison sentence commuted by President Obama this week.

The president commuted more than 200 sentences, including the sentence of a member of a militant group blamed for several deaths and maimings in its fight for Puerto Rican independence.

Oscar López Rivera described his lengthy prison sentence to KBDI Television in Denver.

"It’s very difficult, but at the same, human nature forces you to be more creative, or forces you to be a better human being, if not with anyone else, at least with yourself," he said.

In the sometimes divided Puerto Rican community of Boston, the commutation of López Rivera's sentence has many celebrating.

López Rivera 'Unified Us As A People'

Walk into Jamaica Plain's El Oriental de Cuba in the morning and you're sure to run into the same two guys at the same table all the way down. They’re a bit of an odd couple. Jaime Rodriguez votes Democrat. Tony Molina is a Republican. And politically, they agree about little.

One exception is the belief they both have that López Rivera should be free.

From left to right, Jaime Rodriguez, Tony Molina and Mirna Lascano discuss the commutation of Oscar López Rivera at the El Oriental de Cuba restaurant in Jamaica Plain. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
From left to right, Jaime Rodriguez, Tony Molina and Mirna Lascano discuss the commutation of Oscar López Rivera at the El Oriental de Cuba restaurant in Jamaica Plain. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

López Rivera was part of a group that carried out more than 100 bombings in the 1970s and '80s to fight for Puerto Rico’s independence.

Rodriguez and Molina agree his cause and the use of violence were just.

“Puerto Rico is a colony, and as long as we are a colony, we gonna use every means to be free,” said Rodriguez.

Puerto Rican veteran and activist Jaime Rodriguez. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Puerto Rican veteran and activist Jaime Rodriguez. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

López Rivera has been in prison since 1977, and he has rejected clemency deals that would have required him to renounce the use of violence.

“I think that he paid his dues, he should be released, and he should be honored for the service he gave this country,” said Molina. He's referring to López Rivera’s service in the Army during the Vietnam War. Molina is also a Vietnam veteran.

Puerto Rican veteran and activist Tony Molina. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Puerto Rican veteran and activist Tony Molina. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

He and Rodriguez are far from the only people in the Puerto Rican community celebrating the commutation.

“I was talking to a friend last week about it, and both of us were saying, 'this is not going to happen.' I had honestly lost faith," said Vanessa Calderón-Rosado. "So when I heard the news yesterday, I was really over the moon.”

Calderón-Rosado heads a community group in the South End called "Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción." She said Puerto Ricans have rallied behind López Rivera — and it’s brought them together.

“Oscar gave us not only an opportunity to really support him, and his cause and his liberation, but also unified us as a people, as Puerto Ricans, both in the island and in the diaspora, and to me that’s extremely significant,” said Calderón-Rosado.

It's a universal connecting point between Puerto Ricans — here and on the island. That, Calderon sees as unprecedented.

This segment aired on January 19, 2017.

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Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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