WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has commuted the prison sentence of Puerto Rican independence militant Oscar Lopez Rivera, a White House source told EFE on Tuesday.
The 74-year-old Lopez Rivera was sentenced in 1981 to 55 years in federal prison for seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms, and conspiracy to transport explosives with intent to destroy government property in Puerto Rico, and in 1988 he was handed another 15 years in prison for trying to escape from prison.
Without Obama’s pardon, Lopez Rivera, who has served 35 years of his sentence, would have left prison in 2023 at age 80.
The president used his executive authority to commute the sentence of the militant activist three days before he is to hand over the White House to President-elect Donald Trump.
Last week, some 200 people gathered in Washington to issue a call to Obama for clemency for Lopez Rivera and physically brought to the White House boxes containing 105,000 signatures to that effect, to be added to the 108,000 registered on the We The People Web page.
Well-known public figures signed the petition in support of the activist, including the outgoing and incoming governors of Puerto Rico – Alejandro Garcia Padilla and Ricardo Rossello, respectively – singer-songwriter Ricky Martin, the Calle 13 musical group and former President Jimmy Carter.
Lopez Rivera was jailed along with other accomplices who actively fought for Puerto Rican independence during the 1980s from Chicago and in 1999 then-President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 11 of them.
Clinton also offered a pardon to Lopez Rivera, but he, who had never been accused of violent crimes, refused to accept it unless it was extended to all of his companions.
Lopez Rivera has been held at the penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, since 1998, after being housed at other facilities.
Meanwhile, Lopez Rivera on Tuesday said that he was “very grateful” to the Puerto Rican and American people, along with people around the world, after learning of the pardon, his attorney, Jan Susler, told EFE
“Oscar is very grateful for the love of the people of Puerto Rico, the United States and the entire world who have been fighting for so many years to secure his release,” Susler said after speaking with Lopez Rivera in prison.
During his two terms, Obama has commuted the sentences of 1,176 prisoners, including 395 serving life sentences, thus granting more pardons of this kind than the 11 prior presidents, according to the White House.
As president, Obama has unsuccessfully pushed for prison reform that would reduce the sentences of people convicted of non-violent crimes linked to drugs and are meted out mainly to Hispanics and African Americans.