For a moment late Thursday afternoon, it seemed like everyone in Humboldt Park had turned out to welcome home Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, newly free after more than three decades in prison.
Posters proclaiming “Bienvenido” and Puerto Rican flags blanketed Division Street. A group played bomba music from a flag-festooned float. Dozens of students from a school Lopez helped found decades ago lined a walkway leading to La Casita de Don Pedro, a replica of a Puerto Rican home where supporters have hosted former Puerto Rican prisoners for years.
Many in the crowd consider Lopez a hero of the Puerto Rican independence movement and had waited decades for this moment. Loud cheers broke out when Lopez walked through the crowd to the casita’s front porch, flanked by politicians and fellow activists.
“After 35 years and months as a prisoner, I want you to know I never, ever lost hope that I’d be here with you on Division Street in Humboldt Park,” Lopez, 74, told the gathering, speaking in Spanish.
Lopez was considered a top leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, an ultranationalist Puerto Rican group that claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings at government buildings, department stores, banks and restaurants in New York, Chicago, Washington and Puerto Rico during the 1970s and early ’80s.
Among those greeting Lopez was Carlos Alberto Torres, a fellow FALN member who himself spent decades in prison. He called Lopez’s return to Chicago “the culmination of a great odyssey.”
“This is our brother, our friend, family,” Torres said, a cigar in his hand.