Some days ago, Vice President Joe Biden urged President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela to free political prisoners — specifically, opposition leader Leopoldo López — as an important step in improving relations between both countries. Indeed, if there are political prisoners in Venezuela — or in any other country — they should be released.
This, of course, can also be applied to the United States, whose habit of rising as judge of the world’s moral and human rights has become an example of the double standard that is typical of Washington on issues of foreign policy.
Biden made his suggestion during a brief conversation with Maduro on Jan. 1 in Brazil, the day Dilma Rousseff assumed the presidency for the second time. With his words, the U.S. leader enabled the Venezuelan president to prove, three days later, that Washington does not exactly practice as it preaches.
“The only way I would use the presidential powers I have to free [Leopoldo López] is to put him on a plane bound for the United States, drop him off there and pick up Oscar López Rivera, tit for tat, man for man,” said the Venezuelan leader on a TV program, exposing the reality that the U.S., despite its insincere moralizing, imprisons men and women for political reasons.
“Oscar López is an obvious example of a political prisoner in the United States. If the president [Obama] wanted to pardon him today, he can do it,” said López Rivera’s attorney, Jan Susler, in an interview with CNN. “He has been punished for his bravery. He’s serving a 70-year sentence but he never killed anybody. There is no blood on his hands.”
Three King’s Day (Jan. 6), López Rivera, one of the world’s longest-imprisoned political prisoners, observed his 72nd birthday in an Indiana prison. May 29 will mark 34 years that this man has been kept in federal prisons, 12 of them in solitary confinement. His only crime? To fight for the independence of his country, an unforgivable crime for a colonial power.
He was never charged with any other crime or with harming any person but was accused of “seditious conspiracy,” which only means that what López Rivera wants for his native island is totally contrary to what the U.S. has imposed upon it for 117 years.
Obama “knows that that’s the right thing to do, that there is much support in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the world” to free López Rivera, said Susler, who added that the president will sign a pardon sooner or later.
In addition to Maduro, other presidents of other countries, as well as Puerto Ricans of all ideologies including the governor, plus world leaders who include five Nobel Prize laureates, have asked Obama to pardon López Rivera.
By so doing, Obama would extend a string of just and brave decisions that began with his executive action in favor of undocumented immigrants and continued with the dramatic reestablishment of relations with Cuba.
To order the release of López Rivera, so that this man can finally embrace the granddaughter he knows only from visits to his prison, would be, in addition to a third gold braid on the president’s shoulder, a great way to start the new year.