Sunday, February 16, 2014

History points to Uncle Sam's presence behind the curtain in Venezuela

Depending on who you ask, the street protests sweeping across Venezuela are either a democratic, grassroots movement led by students rebelling against a corrupt government or a right-wing, fascist campaign to overthrow an elected government in a coup similar to the one that briefly felled the Chavez government in 2002.

Believers of the first camp will point to the massive numbers of students taking their voices to the streets. Many have wound up behind bars. Students unsatisfied with the current government have legitimate grievances. "Student demonstrators gathered again in various cities to denounce repression of protests as well as a litany of complaints against Maduro, from crime to shortages of basic goods," declares the Washington Post.

Student Marcos Matta tells the paper: "We're going to stay out in the streets for the same reasons as yesterday and the day before: inflation, insecurity and a repressive state that refuses to release our colleagues."

Popular hastags on Twitter include: , ,  and . These slogans express students' lack of belief in President Nicolás Maduro and their commitment to peaceful protest. There are reports that Twitter has been partially, or at times completely, shut down in the country.

But naturally the other side has a different view of the motivations and legitimacy of the protesters. Maduro has called the opposition leader organizing protests, Leopoldo Lopez, "the face of fascism." The Venezuelan government has issued a warrant for Lopez's arrest for murder, terrorism and conspiracy related to the violence during the protests.

Lopez has fired back that Maduro is taking orders from Fidel Castro, undermining the country's independence and legitimacy.

To understand really going on in Venezuela, there are several factors that should be considered. How has the country changed since Chavismo was implemented in 1999? What is, and has been, the United States' role now and in the past in Venezuela and in Latin America generally?

Two things have marked Venezuela since Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999: a dramatic improvement in social conditions, especially for the many poor Venezuelans, and a dramatic increase in crime.

Poverty, especially extreme poverty, and unemployment have decreased greatly in Venezuela. In 1999, 23.4% of the population was living in extreme poverty, which fell to 8.5% in 2011. Unemployment dropped from 14.5% to 7.6%. GDP per capita increased from $4,105 to $10,801. Infant mortality decreased from 20 per 1,000 to 13 per 1,000.

On the other hand, crime has gone up. The murder rate rose from 25 per 100,000 to 45.1 per 100,000. Naturally, that is an unacceptably high figure. But is there an inherent correlation to the government's policies?

The improvement in social conditions is a logical outcome of massive government investment of oil revenues in social and health programs. The redistribution of the nation's wealth has had predictable outcomes.

What is unclear is the reason for the increase in violence. Is there a connection in the government's policies to the rise in crime, which makes Venezuela one of the most dangerous nations in the world? Has the opposition proposed strategies which could change the security situation? If so, has the government ignored them?

Much has also been made of the country's inflation and shortages of basic goods. But, there is much evidence to point to a great exaggeration about the state of Venezuela's economy. The bottom line is that oil revenues are still much higher than expenses. Despite this, Venezuela has suffered from lack of consumer goods.

Ewa Sapiezynska and Hassan Akram write in Al Jazeera America that these problems may be the result of destabilization efforts by the nation's oligarchy who saw an opportunity after the recent election to unseat the Maduro government.

"The difficulty for Venezuela is that business-people are using the dollars that are allocated to them for the purchase of vital imports to engage in speculative activities on the black market, and to swell their foreign bank accounts. And of course, this means that essential goods are not imported."

The talk of destabilization brings the inevitable question of, if it is real, what is the U.S. involvement? A recently released secret document disclosed by RT News in November purports to show a collaboration between the U.S., Colombia and opposition in Venezuela to use sabotage to blame the Maduro government and increase unrest among the public. One of the opposition figures named is María Corina Machado, a lead figure in the current protests.

Going back only 11 years, the U.S. supported a coup against then-President Hugo Chavez. After a brief period where it seemed he was ousted from power, Chavez regained control and continued to be a vocal advocate against American foreign policy.

The coup was closely tied to senior U.S. officials, the Observer noted at the time. The government officials "have long histories in the 'dirty wars' of the 1980s, and links to death squads working in Central America at that time." The paper claims that Elliot Abrams, a disgraced Iran-Contra veteran, gave the nod to the coup attempt.

Bolivia's Evo Morales has claimed that the current student groups are financed by elements of the U.S. government as part of their destabilization efforts. "In Venezuela, coup attempts that come from the United States with complicity from the national oligarchies are going to keep failing," Morales said.

The United States has a terrible record, going back more than a century, of destabilization, interference, subversion and terrorism against populist democratic governments, especially in Latin America.

"Jacobo Arbenz, Cheddi Jagan, Fidel Castro, Joao Goulart, Juan Bosch, Salvador Allende, Michael Manley, Maurice Bishop, Daniel Ortega, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Hugho Chávez ... all Latin American leaders of the past half century, all progressive, all condemned to suffer the torments of hell for their beliefs by the unrelenting animosity of the United States," writes William Blum. "Since the debacle of 2002, Chávez's natural enemies at home and in Washington have not relaxed their crusade against him."

The U.S. government was actively involved in giving grants to opposition parties through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was created to carry out funding overtly for efforts which the CIA used to do covertly. The anti-leftist arm of the AFL-CIO, the CTV, was also involved in destabilization efforts against Chávez. It was as if, Blum says, the Venezuelan government was involved in financing the California recall election which saw the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the last 5 years alone, the U.S. government has supported coups against democratic governments in Honduras, Paraguay and against the powerful, leftist mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. Going back another 5 years, the U.S. helped oust Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the extremely popular winner of the first fair election ever in Haiti.

"While the press, as well as the U.S. government, will not acknowledge it, the elimination of progressive political leaders by coup d'etat is taking place in Latin America with increasing frequency," writes Dan Kovalik, a human an labor rights lawyer and expert on Colombia.

The results since the 2009 coup are indisputable in Honduras. Since popular President Manuel Zelaya was removed for office for supporting such things as raising the minimum wage, a new report has noted serious damage to the economic and social progress of the country.

"Economic inequality in Honduras has increased dramatically since 2010, while poverty has worsened, unemployment has increased and underemployment has risen sharply, with many workers receiving less than the minimum wage," the CEPR report reads.

Due to the sensitive history of coup d'etats in Venezuela itself and in Latin America in general, it is regrettable that opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez would use the slogan "The Exit", with its implicit goal of removing a democratically elected government from power, as a rallying cry for the protests.

While protesters surely have legitimate grievances against the Maduro government, there should be a deliberative attempt to respect the democratic process. If crimes were committed against protesters by the government, or vice versa, they should be investigated and punished.

No one should rush to judgement while there are still so many unanswered questions. But given the U.S.'s history of illegal destabilization against non-capitalist economies all over the world, its documented involvement in the 2002 Venezuelan coup, and continued ties to opposition figures there, it would be naive to think Uncle Same is sitting by idly as the situation unfolds.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The U.S.'s terrorism double standard

During the last 50 years, the United States has suffered from a constant stream of vicious terrorist acts, first carried out by the Cuban government and then later outsourced to anti-capitalist groups who were given safe haven in the country. The human toll is enormous - 3,478 dead, 2,009 injured, and many more suffering the mental health problems associated with traumatic stress.  The terrorist attacks include blowing up a civilian airplane, bombing hotels and restaurants in tourist neighborhoods, machine gun attacks from speed boats against coastal towns, introduction of chemical and biological agents such as dengue fever, and a program of conspiracy between the Cuban state and the Catholic church to remove thousands of children from their parents and their country.

All of this is true - only in reverse. The victim of the hostile aggression has always been Cuba. The country may be the worst victim of terrorism in the Post-WWII era. But in the bizarro world of the U.S. government, in a textbook case of projection, it is the Cuban government who is responsible for sabotage, destabilization and interference. The U.S. has even designated Cuba as a "state sponsor or terror." In a historic irony, it was Saddam Hussein's Iraq that was removed from the list to make room for Cuba in the early '80s.

Terrorism was the main tactic in the campaign of subversion and interference that started immediately after the success of the revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro. In March 1960, President Eisenhower green-lighted the first funds for the CIA to overthrow the new government. It is safe to say that Eisenhower did not lose any sleep over the mandate in the U.N. Charter that nations must refrain from the threat or use of force against another sovereign nation. By the time the Bay of Pigs Invasion was carried out, after being approved by new President John F. Kennedy, it was a full-scale ground operation launched in April 1961, consisting of 1,400 paramilitary troops and air support from B-26 bombers.  The Cuban Army was quickly able to beat back the invasion, and the terrorist and mercenary forces quickly surrendered.

While all of Latin America rejoiced at the imperialist U.S.A. walking away with its tail between its legs, the military planners in Washington were just getting started. Their response to the humiliating defeat was not to obey international law and leave the rightful Cuban government alone, but to double down. The result was Operation Mongoose, which was authorized by President Kennedy in November 1961.  Operation Mongoose involved thousands of people, millions of dollars and a violation of the Neutrality Act, which prevented CIA Operations in the United States, according to Noam Comsky.

"These Operations included bombing of hotels and industrial installations, sinking of fishing boats, poisoning of crops and livestock, contamination of sugar exports, etc. Not all these actions were specifically authorized by the CIA, but no such considerations absolve official enemies," Chomsky writes.

Harvard historian Jorge Dominguez, in his review of thousands of declassified documents regarding the terrorist campaign against Cuba notes the complete lack of indifference toward human life.

"Only once in these nearly thousand pages of documentation did a U.S. official raise something that resembled a faint moral objection to U.S.-government sponsored terrorism': a member of the NSC staff suggested that it might lead to some Russian reaction, and raids that are 'haphazard and kill innocents ... might mean a bad press in some friendly countries,'" Dominguez says.

The hysteria of the U.S. military planners is evident by looking at the proposed terrorist campaign Operation Northwoods, a series of false flag attacks to be carried out within the United States and blamed on Cuba to create public support for a U.S. military invasion to overthrow Castro once and for all. The project made it as far as getting approval from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but thankfully President Kennedy showed some semblance of humanity by rejecting terrorism against his own citizens.

Terrorism against Cuba continued throughout the '60s and '70s, but eventually operations were left to right-wing anti-Castro militants based in Miami. The new government strategy was to turn a blind eye. Many of the people in these terrorist organizations were former CIA agents and paramilitaries who were veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The two most prominent and dangerous such agents were Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch.

Posada and Bosch were suspected in the bombing of Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 in 1976 that killed all 78 people on board. The victims included all 24 member of the Cuban national fencing team that was returning with gold medals, after being victorious in the Central American Championships. Also on board were a group of fisherman who had completed a contract fishing in Guyana. Two men who boarded the plane and later disembarked before the plane took off from its final stop in Jamaica  were later caught.  Both confessed that Posada and Bosch were the masterminds behind the plot. A declassified FBI report quotes a reliable source confirming that Posada was involved in the planning.

Both men later ended up living in the U.S. Bosch would die in Florida a free man in 2011, after years of involvement with militant anti-Cuban organizations.  He was jailed on unrelated charges in the '80s, but pardoned in 1990 by George H.W. Bush.  The first President Bush did so at the request of his son Jeb, who was acting on behalf of his allies in the powerful Miami anti-Castro community.  The President issued his pardon despite warnings from his own Attorney General who called Bosch and "unrepentant terrorist."

Posada has also wound up in U.S. jails but is now free living in the Miami area. The U.S. has refused to extradite him to either Venezuela or Cuba. He continued his terrorist career and was responsible for more deaths.  Speaking to the New York Times, Posada admitted: "he organized a wave of bombing in Cuba [in 1997] at hotels, restaurants and discotheques, killing an Italian tourist and alarming the Cuban Government." Mr. Posada, the article states, "was schooled in demolition and guerilla warfare by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960's."

The former CIA terrorist also admitted the involvement of other groups based in Florida.  He said: "the hotel bombings and other operations had been supported by leaders of the Cuban-American National Foundation. Its founder and head, Jorge Mas Canosa, who died [in 1997], was embraced at the White House by Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton."

Today Posada lives as a free man in Miami, as Bosch had before he passed away. Posada is still active in supporting anti-Castro groups such as the Ladies in White, who generated much controversy recently when members were detained in Havana for several hours upon protesting publicly.

Another example of horrific terrorist acts against Cuba are the numerous instances of chemical and biological warfare. The worst may be the alleged introduction in 1981 of dengue fever, which killed hundreds and sickened thousands more. Many other cases involving poison and sabotage of tobbaco and sugar crops have been reported.

In his excellent book "Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba," Keith Bolender interviews survivors and relatives of terrorism victims in Cuba.  His many interviews include a woman who lost her leg as a child from machine gun fire by terrorists from Miami attacking her coastal village; the wife of the pilot of Flight 455; a mother who lost her daughter to dengue fever; and a man who as a teenager found an unexploded bomb at a hotel while waiting to play in a chess tournament.

Bolender also puts the terrorist actions in the context of American policy.

"American aggression ran from the embargo, propaganda, isolation, and the Bay of Pigs military invasion. As the rhetoric increased, terrorist acts were formulated and carried out.. American officials estimated millions would be spent to develop internal security systems, and State Department officials expected the Cuban government to increase internal surveillance in an attempt to prevent further acts of terrorism.  These systems, which restricted civil rights, became easy targets for critics," he writes.

There are many other terrorist organizations who live openly in Florida. With names such as Omega 7, Comandos F4, Brigade 2506 and Alpha 66, these groups have admitted to killing people in the past and announce their intention to do so in the future.

"Other than an occasional federal gun charge, nothing much seems to happen to most of these would-be-revolutionaries," write Tristram Korten and Kirk Nielsen in Salon. "They are allowed to train nearly unimpeded despite making explicit plans to violate the 70-year-old U.S. Neutrality Act and overthrow a sovereign country's government... No one has ever been charged for anti-Cuban terrorism under [anti-terror] laws."

The article goes on to mention how the federal government has failed to extradite other militants accused of terrorism and murder such as Luis Posada Carriles. 

Anyone who has use of his brain can see the hypocrisy in the U.S.'s official position on terrorism enunciated by George W. Bush in an address to Congress the week after September 11, 2001.

"From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime. Our nation has been put on notice, we're not immune from attack. We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans," Bush said. Shortly after, he ordered the invasion of Afghanistan after refusing to provide the Taliban regime with any evidence that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

According to his own doctrine, Bush himself would be fair game for a Venezuelan commando raid on his Crawford ranch. And his father would likewise be a legitimate target in his Kennebunkport home for a Panamanian commando squad. Cuban jet fighters and drones would be completely justified in launching attacks in Miami whenever they saw fit.

In reality, the Cuban government has decided to follow the course of international law in its efforts to combat terrorism. They have managed to infiltrate right-wing militant groups in Florida to prevent future plots. After gathering evidence and making a case for what these groups were planning, Cuban authorities shared their intelligence with FBI officials in 1997.  The FBI listened to Cuba's case, took the information back to the States - and arrested the Cubans who had foiled the plots. (For comparison, after catching the paramilitaries who physically invaded Cuba on a military mission to overthrow the government at the Bay of Pigs, most invaders were questioned and sent back to the U.S.)

The Cuban Five, as those imprisoned for fighting terrorism are called, are hardly known, if at all, in the United States. But they are heroes in the native country.

Stephen Kimber, writing in the Washington Post, tries to put the story of the Cuban Five in perspective: "Consider for a moment what would happen if American intelligence agents on the ground in a foreign country uncovered a major terrorist plot, with enough time to prevent it. And then consider how Americans would react if authorities in that country, rather than cooperate with us, arrested and imprisoned the U.S. agents for operating on their soil.

"Those agents would be American heroes. The U.S. government would move heaven and Earth to get them back."

Members of Seal Team 6, who carried out an illegal premeditated assassination of Osama bin Laden in the sovereign territory of Pakistan, have been treated as heroes. As are soldiers who have served in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. How can the U.S. expect to have any credibility in the world when it acts with such blatant hypocrisy?

As Noam Chomsky points out, the U.S. has a long history of hypocrisy when it comes to terrorism. In the '80s, after Reagan announced his desire to wipe out "the evil scourge of terrorism," the United Nations took up the issue with a resolution announcing "measures to prevent international terrorism which endangers or takes innocent human lives or jeopardizes fundamental freedoms."

The bill was passed with virtual unanimous approval of the entire world by a vote of 153 to 2. In opposition were the United States and its client state Israel.

Chomsky describes the U.S. use of the "propagandistic approach" to terrorism. "We begin with the thesis that terrorism is the responsibility of some officially designated enemy. We then designate terrorist acts as 'terrorist' just in the cases where they can be attributed (whether plausibly or not) to the required source; otherwise they are to be ignored, suppressed, or termed 'retaliation' or 'self-defence.'"

A look at the U.S.'s flagrant disregard for international law and principles reveals actions such as denial of habeas corpus and due proccess (originated in the Magna Carta almost 800 years ago); unilaterally undertaking aggressive wars; "shock and awe" bombings; extraordinary renditions; and extrajudicial assassinations, including with drone strikes and Hellfire missiles. These all demonstrate the extent to which the U.S. is willing to disobey all legal and moral conventions to achieve its political goals, all in the name of fighting terrorism.

To deny that Cuba and its residents have been, and are the victims of terrorism for more than half a century is an outrage. To add insult to injury by labeling the Cuban government a sponsor of terrorism because of political considerations is just cruel.

The many victims of terrorism in Cuba may never see justice carried out by those responsible. But their suffering is the same as that felt by Americans after 9/11.  The least we can do is admit that, and stop allowing our government to use terrorism as a propaganda tool for its own convenience while the real human cost is ignored in countries other than our own.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Obama's eulogy for Nelson Mandela and the case of Oscar López Rivera

Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs.” President Barack Obama

"But one prisoner remains, now a vivid reminder of the ongoing inequality that colonialism and empire building inevitably bring forth. After more than thirty years, Oscar López Rivera is imprisoned for the 'crime' of seditious conspiracy: conspiracy to free his people from the shackles of imperial justice.”

President Obama gave an eloquent eulogy at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, praising his unyielding commitment to social justice for his people and noting the inspiration that Mandela provided to Obama himself.  Obama goes on to remind us of others who face similar injustice, and implores us to learn from the lessons Madiba taught us. The President said this in front of the entire world, a deeply personal message meant to convey the enormity of Mandela's influence on him and demonstrate how Mandela has led him to embrace the ideals Mandela fought for and was unjustly imprisoned for in Robben Island for so many years.  

Obama no doubt knows the case of Oscar López Rivera well.  He has recently received letters appealing for López's release from fellow Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Máiread Corrigan Maguire and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel; from Pedro Pierluisi, the sole Puerto Rican (non-voting) member of Congress; and from Puerto Rican governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla.  Obama also may have noticed popular demonstrations that included musicians, athletes and politicians engaging in a symbolic lock up to bring attention to López's cause.

Having already spent more than 32 years behind bars, López holds the distinction of being the longest-serving Puerto Rican political prisoner ever. He has already served 5 more years than Mandela. At 71 years old, he is not scheduled to be released for another 10 years.

The charge that landed López in prison is "seditious conspiracy," trying to overthrow the U.S. government by force. If that sounds familiar, it is because it is the same charge that Mandela was convicted of. Although the government implied he was part of FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña), a militant Puerto Rico nationalist organization, he was not connected to any specific illegal acts of violence. Like Mandela's party the African National Congress, FALN was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. 

Anyone with a basic understanding of the law knows that you cannot be tried or convicted of something you are not accused of.  For example, when O.J. Simpson was tried for kidnapping in 2008, the jury could not have convicted him for murder because of what happened to his ex-wife in 1994.

Without being accused of any acts of violence that killed or injured anyone, López was sentenced to 55 years in prison. For comparison, in the mid '90s, the average time spent in prison by people convicted of violent felonies was four years; for those convicted of murder or manslaughter it was 10 years. The judge declared, "If I could I would sentence them to the electric chair." The Lead Prosecutor said, "I would like to see these Puerto Ricans die in jail." López's political affiliations were clearly the main factor in his draconian sentence. 

After 6 years in jail, López was given 15 years added to his sentence for conspiracy to escape, a plot devised by FBI informants who were placed in his unit with the mission of fabricating an escape plan. 

Obama recognized the political nature of the charges against Mandela. He understands that Mandela's actions stem from the deep injustice perpetrated on him and his people. "Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals," Obama said. "Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, 'a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness' from his father. And we know he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, 'a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments…a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.'"

This recalls López's own description of the degrading conditions facing Puerto Ricans living in Chicago during the early '50s when his family moved from San Sebastián.  His mother Ana Rivera Méndez (Mita) described her "humiliation" by the Americans, and the symbolic violence of toiling as a laborer for meager wages.  "We live humiliated by the Americans. If you go to work in a factory, they fire you because 'you don't produce.' That applies to Hispanics, Blacks, not for Americans. We Latinos all suffer. We suffer in this country."

Mandela's ability to fight for change is described as a virtue by Obama: "Madiba disciplined his anger and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand up for their God-given dignity."

After fighting for the U.S. in the Vietnam War, where he earned the Bronze Star, López returned to Chicago to see how Puerto Ricans were suffering. People like himself and his family suffered from inadequate education, poor housing, lack of health care and few labor opportunities.  López was moved to become involved in community organization and activism, fighting for social justice and improved living conditions.  

López's achievements are impressive and numerous. As a community organizer for various local civic and religious groups, he helped create programs for drug addicts and prisoners. He was also a founder of the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School to provide better educational opportunities for Puerto Rican students. 

Having suffered through the structural violence of the apartheid political system, Mandela did not allow the government to take away the context of his actions when judging him.  Obama praised him for this: "He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and his passion, but also because of his training as an advocate."

In López's defense, he admitted his fight against the structure of the colonial system oppressing Puerto Rico and appealed to international law.  

"The United States government will not say that international organizations have determined that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States and that, according to international law, they are committing a crime against my country. They will not tell you either that according to international law, when an anticolonial fighter is captured, as we were, he or she has the status of prisoner of war and should be judged by a competent international body,” López said in his defense.  

The U.N. Charter guarantees all people the right to self-determination, a right also emphasized in the U.N. Declaration on Decolonization in 1960 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  

"Despite all these struggles, as a Puerto Rican, I have to seek the independence of my homeland.  I can do no other," López said.

As Luis Nieves Falcon explains of the Puerto Rican independence fighters: "They fight against: U.S. collaboration with racist regimes; military interventions in sovereign states; the continuing aid the United States gives to dictatorial regimes; U.S. participation in terrible atrocities against peoples who are engaged in liberation struggles; and the continued imposition of a colonial regime in Puerto Rico.  All of these official actions involve violations of international law, the compliance of which are compulsory for U.S. citizens as established in the Nuremberg principles."

Obama commends Mandela's steadfast refusal to compromise his values to improve his own well-being: "On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of unconditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that 'prisoners cannot enter into contracts.'"

López determined to carry on his fight for justice despite the court's verdict. Upon his arrival in Leavenworth, where he was confined from 1981 to 1986, the prison guards verbally assaulted him, calling him a terrorist who belonged in the maximum-security Marion prison.  

He described his experience of mistreatment as a political prisoner as "spriritcide." 

"i use the word 'spriticide' to describe the dehumanizing and pernicious existence that i have suffered since i have been a prisoner, particularly the years that i have been in this dungeon (labyrinth). It is spiritcide because the death and annihilation of the spirit are what the jailers are seeking by keeping me in such deleterious conditions.  i face, on the one hand, an environment that is a sensory deprivation laboratory, and on the other hand, a regimen replete with obstacles to deny, destroy or paralyze my creativity. We know that sensory deprivation and the denial of creative activity causes the spirit to wither and die. That is exactly what the jailers are seeking by keeping me here."

Despite this, López denied a conditional offer of clemency from President Bill Clinton in 1999 because he would not leave any of his 16 fellow Puerto Rican nationalist prisoners behind. Ironically, López is now the last one left in prison.  

Unlike Mandela, whose struggle to overthrow colonialism and apartheid was successful, López's struggle still continues. Puerto Rico voted in a historic referendum in 2012 to reject the current colonial status.  However, the referendum was non-binding. Only the U.S. Congress can approve a change in status. And they have shown absolutely no willingness to even engage the issue.

From Soweto, Obama implored us to be more like Mandela: "Let us search for his largeness of spirit somewhere inside of ourselves. And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, when our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach, let us think of Madiba." 

In a letter to his granddaughter Karina, López tells her: "Now I see your university success as a prolongation of my aspirations.  As you carry forward in life, fill your heart with love, compassion, hope and value.  Love yourself, your family, your friends and your land, the sea, liberty and justice, and all that which represents and makes life possible."  As always, he signs his letter "In resistance and struggle."

Obama called on young people across the world to follow in the footsteps of Mandela and carry on his legacy. "And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace."

But when it comes to acting on behalf of the country he leads, the President denies the existence of political prisoners and ignores repeated pleas from the public, politicians, and fellow Nobel Peace Lauretes to issue the unconditional release of Oscar López. Obama should realize that the words he spoke about Mandela could just as easily be describing Oscar López. 

The movement to free the longest serving Puerto Rican political prisoner has lately grown exponentially across the island and the mainland.  In November, tens of thousands gathered in San Juan (as well as New York and Chicago) to demand justice for Oscar López.  Ricky Martin made a public plea at the Latin Grammy's and boxer Felix Verdejo did the same before his latest fight. Florida Representative Alan Grayson, spurred on by public outrage in his district, became the latest politician to petition Obama for López's release in January.

More protests are planned as the 33rd anniversary of López's incarceration draws near. And it is forcing people across the Puerto Rican political spectrum to consider not just the man but his cause. In the end, this popular movement may manage not just to achieve justice for one Puerto Rican nationalist, but to provide a unified voice for the anti-colonial politics he represents. I believe that if this were to happen, López, like Mandela, would consider his decades spent in jail a small price to pay.

President Obama: On behalf of the memory of Nelson Mandela, on behalf of the millions of people you represent and the billions of people your words reach, please listen to yourself. Please do the right thing.