Today, Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist who has been in prison for 33 years after being convicted of seditious conspiracy, released a moving statement about his homeland’s continuing colonial status, the ways he finds to celebrate his life, and the continual struggle for independence. Last night, Edward Snowden, a former NSA employee who has been forced into exile in Russia because he decided to blow the whistle on American intelligence’s unlawful spying on innocent citizens, was interviewed by the father of one of the stars of the hit HBO series Girls.
In some ways it’s a little awkward comparing these two, and in some ways it’s easy. López Rivera is not particularly loyal to the United States, and has dedicated his life to separate his people from it to form a new nation. Snowden sees himself as a loyal American who wants to come home, but feels his constitutional rights to privacy are being undermined by a dangerously misguided government policy. López Rivera has spent half of his life in prison, while Snowden has been in exile for a little over a year. But both have made the ultimate sacrifice–losing their freedom, albeit in different ways, to defend strongly held principles.
Unfortunately, while millions of American television viewers saw the interview with Edward Snowden, there was, as usual, nary a word about the plight of Oscar López Rivera. It’s not incorrect to feel Snowden’s case is privileged, and the colonial status of Puerto Rico is one of the most under-reported stories in the history of the US news media. But in this historical moment, they are somehow linked. When I read their words, I found a few parallels in their respective messages that made it seem as if they had been engaged in an imaginary dialog.
Oscar López Rivera: To love the homeland costs nothing, what would be costly is if we lose it. For any Puerto Rican who has doubts about how costly it would be if we lose our homeland I suggest the person should visit the Navajos’ or the Lakotas’ reservations. Because there the person can see what happens to people who lose their homeland. We must face the truth and deal with it. As Puerto Ricans we have to accept the fact Puerto Rico is a colony and that colonialism is unacceptable to most Puerto Ricans and most nations in the world.
Edward Snowden: If we want to be free, we can’t become subjects to a surveillance state…Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen from the violations of and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.
Oscar López Rivera: For people who have said that I don’t want to come out of prison I would like to suggest they pay attention to what I have said during all the years I have been in the gulags and some of the history of our political prisoners. The fact that I’m the Puerto Rican political prisoner who has spent more time in prison doesn’t erase the fact that other Puerto Ricans political prisoners have spent almost as many years as I have.
Edward Snowden: If you’re volunteering yourself to be used as a negative example, if you’re volunteering to spend a lifetime in prison rather than to spend a time in prison, a short period where you’ll come out, you’ll advocate, you’ll emerge stronger and be able to inspire other people to resist these policies, are you doing good or are you doing bad?”
Oscar López Rivera: Before coming to prison i had a life full of great experiences. I enjoyed and celebrated that life. And while in prison, in spite of it been the most dehumanizing, toxic and hostile environment any human being can experience, I still feel I have had a life and that i can celebrate all my life for all the great things it has given me. I don’t have hatred or fear in my heart and I do want to leave prison with my honor, my dignity and my spirit intact, safe and sound.
Edward Snowden: I may have lost my ability to travel, but I’ve gained the ability to go to sleep at night and to put my head on the pillow and feel comfortable that I’ve done the right thing even when it was the hard thing. And I’m comfortable with that.
Oscar López Rivera: I believe the truth will survive and prevail just like our just and noble cause has been able to do for centuries. I’m a Puerto Rican and i don’t want to be anything else. But i consider myself also a citizen of this universe we live in. I believe a better and more just world is possible and that’s one of the main reasons I chose to struggle for the independence of my homeland.
Edward Snowden: I think the most important idea is to remember that there have been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal. Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law.