HUMBOLDT PARK — Local leaders and politicians are cheering President Barack Obama's move on Tuesday to free Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist who has been in federal prison for 35 years on a seditious conspiracy conviction.
"I am overjoyed and overwhelmed with emotion. Oscar is a friend, a mentor, and family to me and he and his brother José have been friends and mentors for my entire adult life," U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said in a prepared statement.
"There were times when hope was hard to find, but my wife Soraida always had faith that this day would come. Now it is clear that Oscar will rejoin his family and be able to walk free among the Puerto Rican people."
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), whose ward includes Logan Square, Hermosa and Albany Park, called Tuesday a "tremendous day for liberty" on Twitter. Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), whose ward includes Humboldt Park, has also campaigned for the release of Rivera.
In 1981, Rivera was convicted of federal charges, including seditious conspiracy to overthrow the United States government when he was a member of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, or FALN, a group that has claimed responsibility for many bombings in major U.S. cities between 1974-1983. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 1981.
On Tuesday, Rivera was one of 64 people who was granted a shortened sentence or, in some cases, a pardon. The list also includes Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence officer who gave classified documents to Wikileaks.
Now, Rivera will released early, on May 17.
Rivera was born in Puerto Rico, but moved to Humboldt Park, one of the city's largest Puerto Rican enclaves, as a teenager. He went on to become an activist in Chicago before going off to fight in Vietnam.
His brother, Jose Lopez, who was not immediately available for comment Tuesday afternoon, has gone on to become one of Humboldt Park's most prominent figures as one of the founders of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.
Depending on whom you ask, Rivera was either a political hero or a criminal. While many activists have been calling for his release, others have warned against a pardon, saying he doesn't deserve one.
National figures like former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and famous actor and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda cheered the move on Twitter. Miranda said he'll play Alexander Hamilton in a Chicago performance for Rivera.
I appreciate @POTUS listening to Puerto Ricans and people worldwide who believe Oscar Lopez Rivera deserves a chance to enjoy his freedom.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 17, 2017
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