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LALIT: 35 Candles lit for Oscar Lopez Rivera release


 Just before the big Grand River North West Bridge on the edge of the Main Road out of Port Louis on the way to Beau Bassin and Black River, on the evening of Monday 20 June, 35 men and women gathered and lit candles. In whose name? For Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican who has been held in prison in the US for his anti-colonial struggle, for 35 years. A candle for each year he has spent in a US jail.

 Earlier in the day, seven LALIT members had distributed bright yellow leaflets in front of the US Embassy on John Kennedy Street, calling for his immediate release. A copy of the leaflet is loaded on this page, for your interest. The leaflet and the Mauritian campaign linked the struggle for Puerto Rican freedom from colonialism to the struggle for the complete decolonization of the Republic of Mauritius; in particular for the re-unification of Mauritius, by Chagos finally being decolonized and the closing down of the US Military base on Diego Garcia. The event coincides with the Mauritian Prime Minister’s ultimatum to the British Prime Minister to restore sovereignty by 30 June, or else Mauritius will go to the ICJ. LALIT has for years been calling for this.

 On the same day, 20 June,  there were actions planned for 35 countries for the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera. The day was chosen because the Special Committee on Decolonization of the UN was sitting in order to judge the Puerto Rican issue. When the 20th came, there were in fact actions in 43 countries, including Puerto Rico. When 20th came, the Committee on Decolonization came up with a resolution for freedom for both Puerto Rico and Oscar Lopez Riviera.

 So, later on the same day, the Committee for Decolonization called for the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera. They also called for the US to “allow the Puerto Rican people to take decisions in a sovereign manner”. And for the US to “complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques” where the US had its military base that the struggle had previously forced the US to close down. (We have loaded the full text of the UN Decolonization Committee’s decision as a news item on this page.)

 Candle-light event

As night fell, motorbikes, bicycles, cars, buses, vans and lorries slowed down to see the candle-light event in front of the LALIT offices. There were 35 people with lighted candles, shielded from the breeze by paper shades. In front of them was a banner reading: In jail for

 35 years for opposing USA occupation of Puerto Rico


& end military occupation of Diego Garcia!

Signed: Lalit, Mauritius, 2016.

 Two small pancarte read:

Ferm Baz Diego! (Close the base on Diego Garcia!) and

Guvernman bizin PURSWSIV UK divan I.C.J! (Government, Take the UK to the ICJ!)

 The action followed a five-minute film, which included a bit of filming done on the quiet during a prison visit, through the bars, in which Oscar Lopez Rivera spoke briefly. So, everyone present saw him, and heard his voice. This was via a YouTube download from a Democracy Now! TV  broadcast.

 Lindsey Collen, the LALIT member who was presiding, gave an outline on two issues: internationalism, and how LALIT came to be part of this unifying anti-imperialist event, and the importance of thinking in terms of world-wide movements, if we want victory in our struggles, and how the Puerto Rico issue is intertwined with the issue of Diego Garcia and the whole of Chagos. On this second point, she said how two Lalit members had been present between the leaflet distribution at the US embassy, and the candle-light event, at the launch of an important new book Retour aux Chagos! by Chagossian leader, Fernand Mandarin, in collaboration with museum curator, Emmanuel Richon. She said that at the launch, the speeches were excellent, and she drew attention in particular to Fernand Mandarin’s beautiful, circuitous story-telling, that ended up with the triple message: Chagossians are the people of Chagos and must continue to struggle for the right to return, the British colonizers must be kicked out, and the US must close its base down. (See report on this page.)

 LALIT member Alain Ah-Vee was the speaker. He outlined the life and struggle of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a leader of the Puerto Rican struggle for decolonization. He said there was unanimity in Puerto Rico, across the board, for his unconditional release. He said how he had been offered release in 1999, and had, on principle, turned it down because two of his comrades were still held in prison. Despite their subsequent release, he is still held prisoner. His sentence is outrageously disproportionate, while the charge is political. The conditions of his imprisonment have been compared, he said, to those in Guantanamo, according to the International Red Cross. The Read Cross said that for 30 of the 35 years, his imprisonment was in conditions equivalent to torture. Alain Ah-Vee told of the movement that Oscar Lopez Rivera was part of, during the times of world-wide de-colonization.

 LALIT member Anne-Marie Joly read out the letter, translated into Kreol, that Oscar recently sent his daughter, Clarisa, on the theme of “freedom”. It was a touching moment: again people heard the voice of Oscar, this time through the measured and modulated tones of Anne-Marie, in the darkness of the eve of the winter solstice in Mauritius. Many people present afterwards said that the image of the barbarity with which colonization treated Patrice Lumumba will now remain engraved in their minds, after hearing the words of Oscar from prison.

 Then everyone present, imbued with all these thoughts and feelings, proceeded to light a candle, and take up a position behind the banner as they had been present to do: to call for US President Barack Obama to release Oscar at once..