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Worldview

Parsing Statehood And Independence In Puerto Rico

On Sunday, more than half a million Puerto Ricans voted in favor of U.S. statehood in a referendum that is non-binding, ultimately leaving it to Congress to act on that vote.

Puerto Rico is deep in a debt crisis and in May, began a bankruptcy-like procedure.

But Oscar Lopez Rivera, who spent more than 30 years in prison for his role in a Puerto Rican nationalist group that claimed responsibility for numerous bombings throughout the United States, said independence is still a “viable” option for Puerto Rico. Rivera was pardoned by former President Barack Obama in January and returned to his hometown of Chicago in May.

Rivera joined U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) to speak to Worldview about the weekend’s vote and what’s next for the island.

Here are some highlights from that conversation:

On growing to support Puerto Rican independence after fighting in the Vietnam War

Oscar Lopez Rivera: Little by little I started discovering what colonialism was doing to Puerto Rico. I don’t think there’s a single soul that would like to be colonized. The history of this country is based on that — this country was founded, 13 colonies.  For me, it was a thing of feeling a Puerto Rican identity, to feel that as a Puerto Rican, I had obligations. I felt myself as a Puerto Rican citizen and I needed to do certain things that were absolutely necessary.

On Congress “holding all the cards” that determining Puerto Rico’s future

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez: The Congress of the United States has never taken its responsibilities serious when it comes to the island of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican people. I’m happy you said that Congress has all the cards, because you’ve just stated a colony, that is, unilateral. The Congress of the United States has in its hands in the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (right) speaks alongside Oscar Lopez Rivera in WBEZ's studios. (Andrew Gill/WBEZ)

On what is next for Rivera

Rivera: We’re in the process of starting a foundation that will try to address some of the problems that prevail in Puerto Rico but at the same time we believe that independence is viable and that decolonization of Puerto Rico is viable. The majority of Puerto Ricans love Puerto Rico. That’s a fact. They love being Puerto Rican. So for me, the way I see it is that, there is a common denominator among Puerto Ricans: the love for their homeland.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Hear the full conversation by clicking play above.

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