March 20, 2015
The hearings in Washington of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, dedicated to Puerto Rico and focused on the defense of individual liberties, must be interpreted, among other purposes, as a summons to the Obama Administration to finally end the prolonged political imprisonment of Oscar López Rivera.
The human rights violations that leave the worst impression on a society are not only those that imply crimes or physical torture, but also those that exude the poison of intolerance and psychological abuse.
But the claims revolved not just around López Rivera, since the petitioners, who traveled from Puerto Rico to the event of the organism of the Organization of American States (OAS), were members of civil rights groups, women’s organizations and law school clinics from three universities. There has probably never been a better stage for exposing the inequalities that emerge on a daily basis on the Island, and that, to date, have not managed to arouse the necessary attention, not in the United States, nor in the rest of the world.
The progress of having been heard, both petitioners as well as some distinguished officials of the Puerto Rican government, has given this meeting special relevance.
Figures such as the political counselor at the United States mission to the OAS, Anthony Pahigian, as well as the executive director of the White House Working Group on Puerto Rico, James Albino, attended the meeting and were able to learn first hand of the great economic, judicial and even statistical obstacles that prejudice entire communities.
The hearings addressed precisely affairs such as the repeated lack of services for disabled children, institutional barriers that limit the struggle for gender equality, and the continued pressure to apply the death penalty in the Island – an incomprehensible punishment in the 21st century, whose imposition by the U.S. Attorney violates the rights and beliefs of Puerto Ricans who oppose it, which is the vast majority of the population.
Representatives of the United States Department of State and Department of Justice had the opportunity to learn, this time directly and up close, the unanimity that exists regarding the call for the release of Oscar López Rivera, the 72 year old man who is facing yet another milestone – he will have served 34 years in prison as of this May – and who was accused of seditious conspiracy but never of causing any bloodshed.
There is no reason for President Obama to continue ignoring the case of Oscar López. The clemency petition, filed by his lawyers in November of 2010, and by Oscar himself, from prison, in September of 2011, presumably still at the Justice Department, doesn’t even need the Justice Department’s approval or recommendation, since the president has the power to sign it whenever he pleases.
Again, the intense call for his release is consistent with the humanitarian efforts that are demanded of other countries. Oscar should not have to face getting sick in prison; that should be avoided at all costs.
Human rights organizations require that prisoners of conscience be permitted to serve their sentences as close as possible to their places or origin and their loved ones. In violation of this principle, Oscar López has served years in the remote prison at Terre Haute, Indiana, and to be able to see him, his closest family members have to invest many hours traveling and great sums of money. As the Attorney General of Puerto Rico, César Miranda, said so well at the hearings: “To speak of individual civil liberties without all of us blushing, in chorus we must demand the release of Oscar López Rivera.”
A good point of departure for continuing the dialogue here would be to follow up on the initiatives that the petitioners presented, and to keep the channels of communication open, with more strength every day, to protect fundamental rights.