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“Nosotros No Tenemos Armas Para Echar A Pique Sus Fuerzas Navales,
Pero Tenemos el Arma de Echar a Pique Su Prestigio en El Mundo.” Albizu 1930

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4th Letter by Oscar López: “A Silent Shadow”

olr-uniform-pic-webThis is the fourth missive of López Rivera to his granddaughter Karina

Oscar López Rivera / imprisoned for 32 YEARS
Dear Karina,

These days, I have been remembering an episode that I think marked my life. It is curious that the memory keeps, among so many horrors that we have seen, one in particular, which may not be the bloodiest, nor the one that caused the most pain, but is the one always remains in one’s soul, and that we relive when we are older.

I was your age when I was called to fight in Vietnam. I arrived at the war in March, 1966.
They assigned me to the base at Lai Khe, although i was only there a few days. Soon they sent me to take part in itinerant operations, which lasted weeks, almost always fairly close to Saigon.

It was in the area near that base, at Lai Khe, where I first saw the effects of “agent orange,” the defoliant used to destroy the jungle. At the base they kept the barrels (with orange-colored rims) and the planes that sprayed the chemical, which seemed harmless, like the ones used for fumigating farms. The effect was terrible. The plants dried up and died in less than three days. Everything was devastated, a blackened hodgepodge of bones in which it was hard to tell which had belonged to humans and which had belonged to animals.

One day, they ordered our platoon to surround a village. A siege was established, a perimeter with control posts so that no one could come or go. We were there for six weeks, watching the peasants, who had dedicated themselves to cultivating rice. They worked with the water halfway up their legs, always under our gaze. One of them, who was my age, approached me one afternoon, after work, and put his arm next to mine, and said, “same thing.” I looked and it struck me to discover that, in effect, we had the same arms, sinewy from hard work.

Several nights later, a guard reported having seen movements and suspicious shadows around our camp. They called us and everyone came running with our weapons ready, aimed at the place that guard had indicated. He gave us the order to fire and a rain of bullets blasted the foliage. When they ordered us to cease fire, we stood paralyzed, barely daring to breathe. That suspicious shadow moved in underbrush. The chief of the peloton ordered us to aim again, and from there fell another rain of shots. We did not see any more shadows, but we were uneasy throughout the dawn.

As soon as the sun began to rise, we heard loud shouts coming from the rice field and we went running there. Three or four peasants were crying in front of the cadaver of a water buffalo, the only one they had in the whole village to work the earth. That animal was the silent shadow that we had killed.

The youngest of the men who were weeping was the boy who had put his arm next to mine. His skin and clothing were stained with the blood of the buffalo. He stared at me fixedly.

Later, part of the platoon was transferred to an area that was full of the mines and booby traps that caused so many injuries. Of the 31 men in our group, 17 remained outside of combat. We worked hard to find those traps, clearing the earth so that the helicopters could land, and opening up a path so that the stretchers could carry the injured.

That boy who mourned his buffalo must be about my age, if he is still alive. He could not imagine that i have been a prisoner for 32 years and that, throughout this time, I have often thought that he was right: his arm and mine were the same thing.

In resistance and struggle, I send you a hug, your grandfather,

Purchase your Reyes Magos Plate by Oscar to benefit the children of Vieques

Read "Between Torture and Resistance"

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