Sun Times photo of Oscar Lopez Rivera – circa 1980
By Hank Beckman -
Merriam-Webster’s online definition of a political prisoner is pretty straightforward: A person put in prison because of his or her political beliefs.
But someone at my alma mater, DePaul University, has expanded the definition to include unrepentant criminals who aided and abetted an organization that claimed responsibility for hundreds of bombings in the seventies and eighties, one of which resulted in the deaths of four people guilty of nothing more than eating lunch at a particular Manhattan tavern.
Dishonest history of notorious Young Lords and FALN
The most recent edition of Insights, the publication for alumni of the university’s Liberal Arts and Social Sciences programs, features an article commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Young Lord’s takeover of an administration building of McCormick Theological Seminary.
The Young Lords were a Puerto Rican street gang turned activist group that, according to the uncredited article, were the “first to give voice to the needs of the nearly 80,000 Puerto Ricans living in Chicago, the majority in Lincoln Park.”
The article described a September symposium on the anniversary, including what the author described as an “historic dialogue” between the leader of the Young Lords, Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez, and Oscar Lopez Rivera, a leader of the Puerto Rican separatist group, Armed Forces of National Liberation, better known by its Spanish acronym, FALN.
In a breathtakingly dishonest piece of writing, Lopez Rivera is described as a “political prisoner.” But a quick glance at his history reveals a person not in the least sorry about the lives lost and property damaged by a dedicated group of Marxist radicals whose history is often whitewashed in contemporary accounts.
In fact, FALN was far from just your average dissident political group engaging in standard letter-writing tactics, street demonstrations and media campaigns.
They have been accurately described by many as a revolutionary Marxist paramilitary organization dedicated not only to Puerto Rican independence, but the establishment of a Marxist state in Puerto Rico.
Between 1974 and 1983, the FALN was responsible for about 130 bombings throughout the United States, many in Chicago and New York City. Among their targets in Chicago were the Merchandise Mart and other buildings in the Loop; in New York they targeted the FBI’s Manhattan headquarters and the offices of several corporations.
In 1975, the FALN took credit for a bomb set off in the historic Fraunces Tavern, killing four and injuring 50. They were also suspected in the bombing of the TWA terminal at LaGuardia Airport that killed 11 people.
Former Congressman Luis Gutierrez with Rivera – Chicago Tribune photo
DePaul's false recollection of Oscar Lopez Rivera
Although never proved to be involved in any bombings, Lopez Rivera was tried and convicted of, among other things, seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by threats or violence, possession of an unregistered firearm, and transporting explosives with the intent to kill or injure people.
He was sentenced to 55 years in prison; another 15 years was added on for conspiracy to escape in 1985.
At the end of his presidency, Bill Clinton offered Lopez Rivera and 16 other members of FALN clemency, one of the conditions being that they renounce violence as a means to achieve any political goals.
Fifteen of the prisoners accepted the offer, but Lopez Rivera declined on the grounds that not every FALN prisoner would be released.
The move was opposed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, but with his wife running for the Senate in New York, the Clinton’s no doubt had an eye on the state’s significant Puerto Rican vote.
As it turned out, Hillary Clinton didn’t need the clemency issue, drubbing the weak Republican candidate Rick Lazio in a landslide.
Lopez Rivera had to sit for another 17 years in jail before another Democratic president, Barack Obama, commuted his sentence. Democrats love their anti-American terrorists.
In an article on the NPR web site (1-15-17), Lopez Rivera was quoted as saying that because colonialism was a crime against humanity, people had a right to use “any means necessary” to fight it, “including the use of force.”
Families of Rivera's victims speak out
Thomas Connor is well aware of that commitment to violence. His father Joseph was a banker that lost his life in the Fraunces Tavern bombing.
In a New York Times article around the time of the Clinton clemency controversy, Connor said, “They have never apologized for what they have done. They have never renounced violence.”
What Lopez Rivera also failed to mention is that every time in the last 50 years that the actual Puerto Rican people had a say in the matter in referendums, they overwhelmingly rejected independence as an option.
In 1967, with a turnout of 65.9 percent, only .6 percent favored independence; in a 1993 turnout of 73.5 percent, only 4.4 percent; in a 1998 turnout of 71.3 percent, only 2.5 percent; in a 78 percent turnout in 2012, only 5.5 percent.
The last non-binding referendum in 2017 had only 1.5 percent favoring independence, although the turnout was only 23 percent due to the boycott of the voting by groups wanting some form of free association or commonwealth status.
Real political prisoners
So while some of Lopez Rivera’s supporters would have you believe that he was some sort of latter-day George Washington, a leader enjoying popular support in the fight for the independence of his oppressed people, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Historic figures accurately described as political prisoners include Eugene Debs, the American socialist and activist jailed for urging people to resist being drafted for the First World War; certainly India’s Mohandas Ghandi, with his decades-long nonviolent protest of colonialism that eventually tied a knot in the British Lion’s tale; and Andrei Sakharov, the Russian physicist and peace activist, arrested and sent into exile by the Soviet Union for protesting the war in Afghanistan.
Words mean something, even in an age where every other word from mainstream media seems politically-calculated. Associating Oscar Lopez Rivera with these historic figures is an insult to their memories and corrupts our public discourse.
DePaul University should be deeply ashamed that this nonsense was printed in a university-sanctioned publication.
Be sure not to give the University any money. Tell them why. and try to get others to do the same.
National Socialist like Hitler. Clearly have their people in USA. In fact two presidents were mentioned in this article.
Baby Killing is supported by both.
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