EAST HARLEM — Preservationists are raising money to restore a mural that pays tribute to one of the leading figures of Puerto Rico’s nationalist movement.
The Oscar Lopez Rivera mural, on 107th Street and Third Avenue, was vandalized a little over a year ago. The mural depicts Rivera and another activist Avelino Gonzalez Claudo, who both had their eyes scratched off, according to Marina Ortiz, founder and president of the East Harlem Preservation.
“It was obscene what was done to it,” Ortiz said. “It’s painful and disappointing. This was a deliberate act of vandalism in my opinion.”
The group is trying to raise $2,000 to restore the mural in time for a march on May 30, where a dozen groups will gather to mark the 34th anniversary of his incarceration and ask President Barak Obama to release him.
The organization is hoping to raise enough funds during a meet and greet it's hosting on April 30 at 6:30 p.m., where locals can meet the artists who would be charged with restoring the mural.
Rivera is a political prisoner who has been in federal prison since 1981 after he was charged with conspiracy, according to reports. Claudo was also briefly briefly imprisoned for three years before being released in 2013.
Locals in East Harlem remember Rivera as a brave political prisoner who was sent to prison for supporting Puerto Rican independence. They believe his 55-year sentence is too long for a crime that was done in support of the cause, Ortiz said.
In 1999 President Bill Clinton offered clemency to 12 members of the national movement, Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional Puertorriqueña, including Rivera. But Rivera refused because the clemency offer did not include other members of the group, according to the New York Times.
“Until Mr. Lopez Rivera is freed, the Speaker will continue to advocate for him,” her spokesman Pedro Serrano said in a statement.
Local artists have volunteered to restore the mural. Some were involved in painting it back in 2010, others are new to the project.
“I learned more about him since I decided to do the project,” said Natalie de Villar. “I didn’t know enough about him. I didn’t know he was an artist. That was more exciting to me.”
She hopes restoring the mural will have the same effect on people walking along 107th Street.
“Just like me, if they knew more they would take more interest," she continued. “It’s important to inform the people in the community."