Puerto Rican nationalist icon Oscar Lopez Rivera may have been in prison for 35 years, but residents of one Chicago neighborhood saw his face on posters and murals almost every day. Now, that same neighborhood has given Rivera a hero’s welcome upon his release from prison.
Former President Barack Obama commuted Rivera’s sentence in January shortly before leaving office, and the Puerto Rican nationalist served the remainder of his time on house arrest until last week when he returned to the windy city.
Events during Rivera’s homecoming celebration included a march down the Paseo Boricua accompanied by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a flotilla, and a large reception in a nearby park. Many of Rivera’s long-time supporters showed up at the event, including one Moses Cintron, who has supported Rivera for almost 20 years.
Cintron and his wife, Lourdes, traveled all the way from Cleveland to see and celebrate Rivera’s return to Chicago. He even visited Rivera several times when he was in federal prison in Indiana.
Cintron and his wife arrived in Chicago carrying a picture of an old pickup truck decorated with messages that showcased support for Rivera. Almost 47% of 18 to 34 year olds find car wraps memorable, but cars are rarely vehicles for political messaging. Cintron’s hand-painted pickup still sports a “Free Oscar” message on both sides.
Rivera’s sentencing was a result of his involvement with a pro-Puerto Rican independence militant group called the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN. The group was linked to more than 100 bombings in cities like Chicago and New York, and dozens of people were injured or killed in these attacks. Even though he was never directly linked to any of the bombings, Rivera’s involvement with FALN led to him being convicted of multiple charges including plotting to overthrow the U.S. government.
Furthermore, many people believe the former political prisoner is nothing but a terrorist. When the New York City Puerto Rican Day parade made the decision to honor Rivera, sponsors like ATandT, the New York Yankees, and Coca Cola, as well as the New York Police Department, refused to participate in the annual event.
Despite his controversial status, Rivera has received support from people all over the world since his sentencing in 1981. High-profile world leaders such as Pope Francis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda have all voiced their support for his pardon in the past.
Now, Rivera is walking free, and some supporters say he still offers hope to Puerto Rican people.