SAN JUAN – Thousands took to the streets on Sunday demanding the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera on the 35th anniversary of the imprisonment of the independence-minded leader, who has become a symbol of “Puerto Rican dignity” and whom many are mentioning in opposing the fiscal control board that Washington wants to impose on San Juan.
“We don’t want this board, we want to be free,” was one of the most frequently heard slogans chanted during the huge march moving from the Convention Center to the Plaza de la Barandilla in Old San Juan.
There, a stage had been set up where a number of speeches were delivered and assorted musicians performed for the crowd, most – if not all – focusing on the theme of freedom for Lopez Rivera.
Earlier, activist Alberto de Jesus Mercado, known as “Tito Kayak,” perched himself high up on the facade of the Capitol building – the island’s legislative seat – with a Puerto Rican flag, without the authorities intervening.
Among those attending the protest were leaders of the Puerto Rican Independence Party and the Working People’s Party, as well as Senate president Eduardo Bhatia, with the governing Popular Democratic Party, and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.
All of them have come out in recent days against the fiscal control board that Washington intends to impose on the Puerto Rican government in a move that many here consider to be a “colonial takeover” of the U.S. commonwealth, which has been in a serious recession for the past decade and lacks the liquidity necessary to pay its debts and provide adequate public services.
“We marching for Oscar, example of dignity” could be read on some of the signs carried by participants in the march, one of the largest in recent years.
“Obama, listen to me! We want Oscar free,” was also one of the chants made by marchers, demanding that U.S. President Barack Obama issue a new pardon for Lopez Rivera – something that Bill Clinton had done when he was president but which the independence leader, at the time, refused.
Lopez Rivera was jailed at age 38 in Chicago, tried and sentenced to 55 years behind bars for seditious conspiracy for trying to topple the U.S. government on the island. In 1991, he was sentenced to another 15 years in prison for trying to escape.