After 36 years behind the bars of a federal prison, sentenced to 70 as a political prisoner, Puerto Rican-American Oscar Lopez Rivera has returned to his former home in time for Chicago’s Puerto Rican parade.
Saturday’s annual procession winds from the city's Humboldt Park to South Sacramento Avenue.
The 74 year old will walk down memory lane as the Marshal of this year’s parade, leading the crowd through his old neighborhood, passing schools and health centers bearing his name.
This is the second event to be held in his honor since his return to the city earlier this month. The first was a walking tour of his home “Paseo Boricua” accompanied by Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez as well as other Chicagoan Latino politicians, residents and invited guests.
"This is the most Puerto Rican neighborhood... and the place where Puerto Rican people feel most comfortable," Rivera told the Chicago Tribune.
One couple from Ohio drove almost six hours in hope of meeting their hero. Their truck is painted with the words 'Free Oscar'.
“Those letters have been on my pickup the last five years,” said owner Moses Cintron. He said he had visited the former prisoner several times after Lopez Rivera was transferred to a federal prison in Indiana.
Lopez Rivera was arrested in 1981 by the FBI and charged with “seditious conspiracy" for being a militant, anti-colonial fighter as a part of the Armed Forces of National Liberation.
During his trial, he told the court he and his group’s actions were part of an anti-colonial war against the U.S., declaring themselves prisoners of war and requesting that their cases be handed over to an international court.
The U.S. did not recognize Lopez Rivera's demand and sentenced him to 55 years in prison.
After an alleged escape attempt, the sentence was increased to 70 years in prison, 12 of which he spent in solitary confinement.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama commuted his sentence earlier this year and Lopez Rivera was freed last month after serving 36 years.
His participation in New York’s parade a week ago caused controversy when parade organizers decided to celebrate its 60th anniversary by naming Lopez the parade’s first “National Freedom Hero”.
Numerous sponsors, politicians and municipal offices subsequently pulled their support from the event.