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Open Letter to the President (re: A Pardon for Oscar López Rivera)


Dear President Obama:


Here in Puerto Rico, your lunch with now Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla is commemorated by way of a small plaque on the table in the restaurant where you paid cash for a sandwich in a button-down white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I presume that the restaurant owners placed the plaque there because customers might want to sit at the same table where the President of the United States ate a sandwich—they might even want to have their picture taken there. They’re probably right: people often enjoy imbuing everyday activities with historical significance, even when the historical event in question here was not all that significant, not when compared to the kinds of things that usually make up the history of nations and so forth. Several months after you left, the island government unveiled a statue of you across the street from the Capitol building in San Juan, next to statues of all the other Presidents who had visited Puerto Rico during the history of American colonial rule over the island. They’re not that many. And there’s no record of what they ate, I don’t think.

I share this because, like so many here, I have a somewhat distorted notion of history and of the events that comprise it. For example, I know that you are the 44thPresident of the U.S. and that you were first sworn into office on January 20, 2009. I know this because I turned 30 years old that day and was standing in a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Washington D.C, overwhelmed by the sight of you on the big screen approaching the podium to address the crowd as President for the very first time. I remember thinking “this is historic,” and I even managed to convince myself that, although I had stood in the middle of a crowd before, that particular occasion was significant. To commemorate it, I bought and kept a copy of the New York Times. However, by the time you made your first visit to Puerto Rico in June 2011, I, as perhaps others around the world, was already significantly underwhelmed by the moral character of your presidency. I sometimes wonder whether it will be those feelings of deception, disillusion and supreme disappointment experienced by millions that will define you historically. Sometimes I hope so. Sometimes I hope not.

Anyway, I’m writing because this past Saturday, I was standing in the middle of a crowd of tens of thousands in front of the Federal Court Building in San Juan, and I was overwhelmed by the sight of so many diverse groups of people set to march through the city to demand the liberation of Oscar López Rivera, who has served more than 32 years in federal prison for conspiring to oppose U.S. authority by force. At present, he is the longest held political prisoner in America, although he was never convicted of directly harming anybody. During his incarceration he has been subjected to behavioral modification programs, kept in isolation. He is 70 years old, has a daughter and a granddaughter whom he met through the glass in a prison visiting room. He deserves to be back home. To be honest, on January 20, 2009, I was unaware of the particulars of Mr. López Rivera’s incarceration. I was aware, of course, of the historical struggle in Puerto Rico for independence from the U.S., and of the many men and women who have been imprisoned by the federal government throughout the history of U.S. colonial rule over the island for attempting to liberate our country—an at once beautiful and nefarious legacy, no doubt. This notwithstanding, it was your name (and not Oscar’s) that I learned to say first, as an affirmation of hope for more progressive politics, individual liberties and social justice—an unfortunate but typical effect of colonialism, no doubt. Thankfully, I don’t say it that way any longer. Instead, I write down the name OSCAR in big, black letters on a poster board and, like thousands upon thousands inside and outside the island, I hope against all odds that you pay attention to a place where people are expected to pay you homage simply because you dropped by and ate a sandwich. I’m writing because I, like so many of us here, would like to have Mr. López Rivera back on the island so we could run into him casually at lunch time and have the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for doing something as significant as fighting for the liberation of his country and enduring so many years in prison, all the while giving us hope for more progressive politics, individual liberties and social justice. But I digress.

This is just to say that your lunch here in June 2011, is not significant. Nor is your statue, really, as it does not commemorate anything historic you might have done here. People do insignificant things every day, even Presidents. It’s a historical fact. Some facts, however, stand out more than others. The fact that Oscar López Rivera has spent the last three plus decades in prison stands out the most around these parts. Over the last three plus decades, five different Presidents have been sworn into office. I wonder if it would be possible for you to consider standing out amongst them. I wonder if you would be interested in imbuing your presidency with historical significance in the form of a direct action to assuage this injustice perpetrated by the American government. I wonder if you would be interested in affirming the fundamental American principle of freedom and grant a pardon to Mr. López Rivera. I really hope so. At all times.

On Saturday, students at the march were chanting in unison: “Obama can’t talk about freedom, if he keeps brother Oscar incarcerated.” Thousands upon thousands agreed. And now I am tempted to ask, can you?


Guillermo Rebollo-Gil

San Juan, PR

  • JoseMLopezSierra

    Dear Partner,

    Now that the First Oscar – Mandela March in Puerto Rico ishistory, we can now begin to work on making an even bigger success of The First Oscar Mandela Protest in New York City. This year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City a week before our protest will be dedicated to our political prisoner Oscar López Rivera.

    On Monday, June 23, 2014, the United Nations (UN) will be discussing again Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the United States. The UN is in its third decade trying to eradicate colonialism from the world, because of the belief that it constitutes a threat to world peace. Since this date is a week later than usual, our committee decided to have 2 protests this year.

    On the Monday, June 16, 2014, the day after Fathers’ Day, we will have our first protest in the park across from the UN on 46th Street and First Avenue from 8 AM to 5 PM to show the world that we too believe that colonialism is a crime against humanity. On the same day of the hearing, Monday June
    23, we will have the second one. We will have a press conference in New York City to inform the public of the latest details of these event. We will
    need as many people at the protest as possible to make the government of the United States (US) comply with the 32 UN resolutions asking the US to
    decolonize immediately Puerto Rico. After this many resolutions, it is obvious that the US does not want to.

    President Obama recently showed the government of the United States’ hypocrisy about human rights. In his memorial ceremony speech, he had only praise for Nelson Mandela. He, however, has refused, despite the
    enormous pressure from Puerto Rico and the rest of the world, to release from prison Oscar López Rivera who is doing exactly what Mandela did. Oscar has already spent 6 more years in prison than the 27 that Mandela served. The US is happy when other countries decolonize their colonies, but the US wants to keep hers. What kind of
    democracy is this? Obviously, those who have colonies don’t believe in justice for all.

    Please tell your friends about this important protest for Oscar López Rivera’s release from prison, and to achieve what he has spent his life on, the decolonization of Puerto Rico.

    We will have a sheet of paper so that whoever who wants to get involved in the planning of this yearly permanent event in New York City can provide us with your contact information. If you wish, you can also email me right now at

    We look forward to greeting old and new partners in our struggle to provide real justice for all!

    José M López Sierra
    Because, rights are not requested, they are demanded!

  • JoseMLopezSierra

    Dear Partners,

    Join The First Oscar – Mandela Protest in Puerto Rico on Saturday, March 22, 2014, on the Abolition of Slavery Day, to peacefully protest for the decolonization of Puerto Rico and the release of our political prisoner Oscar López Rivera. It is the perfect day to protest the enslavement of Puerto Rico by the government of the United States.

    We will march from the Roosevelt Avenue Urban Train Station at 2 PM to the United States Court in Puerto Rico on Chardón Street in Hato Rey.

    If you belong to any particular group, feel free to bring your flags and signs to our protest. We want it to be a collective effort involving everyone who believes that colonialism is a crime against humanity and a threat to world peace. We need to have as many people as possible, because those who practice or accept colonialism, don’t believe in justice for all!

    Un abrazo,

  • guillermo


    Querido Obama:

    A short while ago, in your address to
    the crowd gathered in Johannesburg, you thanked South Africans for
    sharing Nelson Mandela with the rest of the world. Madiba, you called
    him—the name of his clan. Ubuntu, you said, referring to the sense
    of oneness with humanity that “the last great liberator of the 20th
    century” will forever represent. It is in that spirit of oneness
    that I address you as querido, meaning loved.

    Just yesterday I began a letter with
    that same term: “Querido Oscar.” I wanted to remind you that he
    too belongs to a sort of clan and that we would very much appreciate
    the opportunity to share him with the rest of the world. You see,
    while most of us must turn to metaphor in order to begin to
    comprehend the totality of hardships endured by Nelson Mandela, Oscar
    López Rivera does not. And while many might have listened to your
    speech and wondered where in the world exactly are those men and
    women currently imprisoned for their political beliefs, we here know
    they’re very close to your nation’s heart.

    Querido Obama, in your speech, you
    mentioned Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr in an
    eloquent effort to communicate to the world the importance of
    Mandela. I wonder, however, why you did not mention the names of the
    men and women sitting in prison today for making the same types of
    choices in their lives that you rightly celebrate in Mr. Mandela’s
    life, after death. I understand that some of these names might be
    difficult to pronounce, insomuch as History has yet to really
    acquaint itself with them and thus, their official biographies are
    still too complex, conflictual and hard for a President to say in
    public with pride, gratitude and admiration. Specially if said
    President currently represents the nation of their incarceration.

    But there is hope. Hope in the words
    and the names you did pronounce in your speech: Madiba, Ubuntu.
    Here’s another: Querido. It is the word with which you should offer a
    pardon to Oscar López Rivera, in the spirit of oneness with Nelson
    Mandela. It is the one word that would make all the others you said
    today ring true.


  • Angel

    Lopez nunca fue encontrado culpable de ningun cargo de violencia y nunca fue encontrada evidencia sobre su participacion en actos de violencia. De hecho, Bill Clinton asi lo reconoció y por ello quiso extender clemencia. Igualmente, la gente de la FALN no fue conectada con actos específicos de violencia tampoco en el juicio que le hicieron. Los cargos fueron de conspiración sediciosa….

  • pa’ que se averguencen

    Los Macheteros son responsables de la muerte de personas inocentes y no hay razon que justifique la muerte de nadie. Si por mi fuera, él y cualquier otro que haya sido parte de esto en nombre de Puerto Rico se debe podrir en la carcel.

  • @HoyoFrio

    Aqui en el otro Puerto Rico -Bronx- N.Y. N.Y. Ud. puede conseguir apoyo ,

  • CRR

    Podemos colocar el enlace de la carta todos los días en el Twitter del presidente: @BarackObama. Esto se uniría al esfuerzo que estamos haciendo de colocarle mensajes diarios en esa red social pidiendo la libertad de Oscar. (Tanto da la gota en la piedra….)

  • Maritza Stanchich

    ¡Excelente! Vale recalcar que esta carta también se publicó en línea en CounterPunch y que como muchos bien saben hubo muy poca cobertura de la marcha aquí del sábado pasado en la prensa EEUU aparte de la cobertura local en NYC por la marcha solidaria allá, pequeña en comparación, aunque ayudó mucho la participación en ella por René Pérez de Calle 13.
    Escribí a la reportera principal de la Prensa Asociada en Puerto Rico, Danica Coto, para preguntarla si se había escrito algo sobre la marcha por parte de AP (también hubo fotos buenas disponible en APImages por Ricardo Arduengo pero no hubo evidencia en línea que se usó alguno por los medios). Ella me respondió que solo se preparó un breve porque ya se había dado cobertura más amplia con las acciones de las celdas simbólicas en mayo y que no podía confirmar si el breve se usó por unos medios (no encontré evidencia en línea de ello).
    Hay que acabar con esta invisibilidad en los medios en línea en inglés (como idioma internacional más allá de América Latina y España)…sería una manera que esta causa merecida logra captar la atención internacional en EEUU y el mundo. Le felicito a Guillermo Rebollo-Gil por romper con este silencio insidioso en los redes en inglés. Queda mucho mas por hacer.

  • Manolo

    En mayo envie un correo electrónico..acabo de enviar otro mas hoy …insto a todos a que hagan lo mismo….gracias..

  • Alberto Rivera

    To sad that words are carried by the wind! We speak as one nation united, but, we are not united, Oscar will not be free by Obama, he does not care about the people of Puerto Rico, because we can not vote! I, do not want to be part of the U.S., I, want freedom for our nation. Viva Puerto Rico Libre.

  • Lissette

    Gracias por escribir esta carta y por decirlo lo que un buen colectivo pensamos. Gracias.

  • Chuck Culhane

    Great letter but people should also write or e-mail or call the president.