Tag Archives: Political Prisoners


The Puerto Rican Mandela by vagabond ©
The Puerto Rican Mandela by vagabond ©

A few weeks ago i was asked by Benjamin Ramos of Pro-Libertad, an organization dedicated to the freedom of Puerto Rican political prisoners, to design a poster for US held Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera. For those who don’t know Puerto Rico has been a colony of the US since 1898. For more on that whole situation check this out… Ever since it’s colonization there’s been a resistance movement to liberate Puerto Rico from the US to quote Malcolm X “…by any and all means necessary”. Some of those means have included armed struggle which is the right of colonized peoples in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples under UN Resolution 1514.

Oscar Lopez Rivera is a freedom fighter not unlike the most famous political prisoner in the world, Nelson Mandela. Oscar is 72 and has been in prison since 1981, that’s almost half his life. He was charged, convicted and sentenced to 70 years for the crime of seditious conspiracy to overthrow the US government. Contrary to the lies and misinformation fed by the US government and the corporate media Oscar is not charged with killing or maiming anyone. He is charged with seditious conspiracy to overthrow the US government.

After i designed the image above Benjamin asked if i knew anyone who could print some posters and postcards. i reached out to the worker owned union shop of offset printers, Radix Media. i worked closely with Lantz Arroyo and he was able to print a run of 11″x17″ posters and 4″x6″ postcards of the image…

Puerto Rican Mandela posters
Puerto Rican Mandela posters

Some of the posters will be used as media to help spread the word about Oscar and some will be for sale with the proceeds going towards Oscar’s commissary. If you’re looking to try and get one let me know and we’ll work something out. i imagine Oscar will use some of those funds we raise to get art supplies since he is a painter. Check out some of Oscar’s work here…

The international campaign to free Oscar Lopez Rivera is asking people to call both the White House and demand that Oscar Lopez Rivera be released unconditionally. Call President Obama at 202-456-1111 and leave a message!  Let him know that Oscar Lopez Rivera has been in prison for too long and deserves to go home!  

Sample Message for your phone call:
President Obama, I ask that you free Puerto Rican Political Prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera.  Since 1981, he has been in jail for fighting for Puerto Rican independence; he never committed a violent crime and has been a model prisoner.  I ask that you follow in the foot steps of Presidents Truman, Carter, and Clinton, who freed other Puerto Rican activists, and set Oscar free!

For more info on Oscar Lopez Rivera the video below is from Democracy Now and gives some more detailed information on both Oscar and the campaign to free him…

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1A9



FREE OSCAR by vagabond ©
FREE OSCAR by vagabond ©

Today is 3 Kings Day… It’s also US held Puerto Rican political prisoner of war Oscar Lopez Rivera’s birthday. He’s 72 years old. For 33 of those years he’s been in US prisons as the longest held Puerto Rican political prisoner of war. ‪#‎FREEOSCARLOPEZNOW‬

There is a Twitter campaign going on right now to pressure US President Barak Obama to free Oscar Lopez Rivera. This campaign is being dubbed #Gift4Oscar in which people create a salvo of art, music, writings, videos, and tweets to #FreeOscarLopezRiveraNow in an effort to educate people about Oscar Lopez Rivera and to help bring about his freedom. Over the years i have done various pieces of art for Oscar’s freedom… This is my ‪#‎Gift4Oscar‬

You’ll notice one of the pieces is the cover of a ‘zine that the RICANSTRUCTION Network did called SALVO which featured Oscar on the cover along with an essay from him on art and prison. You can download a PDF copy of the ‘zine at the Audio Visual Terrorism blog.

These pieces are free to use for the struggle towards his release… i only ask the proper credit be given…

by vagabond ©

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The Liberation Day Tapes

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The genome of my six-time international award-winning feature film MACHETERO can be mapped right back to the NYC hardcore Puerto Rican punk band RICANSTRUCTION and their first album Liberation Day. When i write i often build a soundtrack to use as an emotional roadmap to guide me through the construction of the script. i often see songs as short stories or reinterpret them as short stories and i take those short stories and try to include them in my writing process.

MACHETERO is a film about terrorism and terrorists and how those terms are defined and by whom. The script was written a year after the terrorist events of September 11, 2001. i was waiting for a more nuanced analysis of those events to take place on a larger scale but they never did and so i wrote the script for MACHETERO and decided to explore those issues in a film. The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 were polarizing and so referencing them in the script seemed counterproductive so i decided to use the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence and the use of violence in that struggle as a means of liberation to talk about terrorism and terrorists.

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RICANSTRUCTION’s Liberation Day was a concept album based around the Puerto Rican independence struggle. So when i was looking for music to inspire my scriptwriting for MACHETERO i was immediately drawn to Liberation Day. The songs from Liberation Day started to insinuate themselves into the script and they eventually became a part of the structure of the film.

At the end of the final sound mix for MACHETERO my friend and fellow filmmaker Omar came by and brought his camera to interview Arturo and Joseph Rodriguez about how Liberation Day came into being. Artie and Joey talk about how RICANSTRUCTION came about and how the concept for Liberation Day took shape. Arturo and Joseph talk about the ideas and the creation of each song and afterward there is the corresponding scene from MACHETERO.

Liberation Day by RICANSTRUCTION
Liberation Day by RICANSTRUCTION

RICANSTRUCTION’s Liberation Day is available on iTunes and i highly recommend picking it up. You can hear all the influences of Jazz, Funk, Salsa, Hip hop, Reggae and Merengue placed into a hardcore punk setting in the music of RICANSTRUCTION. The rest of their catalog – the EP Abu Jamal and their 2nd album Love + Revolution are also on iTunes.

You can watch The Liberation Day Tapes on the Vimeo On Demand page for MACHETERO. The Liberation Day Tapes are part of a collection of extra videos that give some background information on the film and that are free to watch. There is also a radio interview i did with Chuck D about the film and an interview i did with Sam Greenlee the author and co-screenwriter of The Spook Who Sat By The Door. There is also a scene from the film featuring former US held Puerto Rican political prisoner of war Dylcia Pagan who plays a pivotal role in the film.

Six Time International Award Winning Film MACHETERO On Vimeo On Demand
Six Time International Award Winning Film MACHETERO On Vimeo On Demand

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Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day… Remember those who fell fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico… Remember those who sacrificed decades in prison for your freedom…

Some of these images are available as T-shirts from RICANSTRUCTED

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1eniL-1na

2013 A Record of Rebellion

In an effort to catalogue my creative output over the past year i’m posting the various projects that came to fruition in 2013. i produced, directed and edited three documentary web series. The idea for these web series came about when i wanted to create a record of a history that i felt wasn’t being recorded for future generations. i wanted to create a record of rebels and their rebellions and hear it from those who had to live through it. More of these histories in the form of web series are coming in 2014.

For the few folks out there who appreciate watching things longer than 5 minutes online i have compiled each of the web series into single videos. If you want to see the original web series as they were released you can click on the links to be connected to the complete series.


The first one was An On Going Cost To Be Free, an 11-part series on current US held Black Unity Council & Black Liberation Army political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz who has been in prison for over 40 years. He’s served over 20 years of that time in isolation where the lights in his cell are never turned off and he’s allowed one hour of exercise a day in another small cage. i interviewed his son Russell Shoatz III initially to get the perspective of what it must be like to have grown up with your father as a political prisoner. The interview became larger in scope and became the detailed story of Russell Maroon Shoatz and his incredible strength through the trials and tribulations of his imprisonment.


The second web series was Sacrifice Without Hesitation a five-part series on Luis Rosa a former US held Puerto Rican political prisoner of war who served 20 years in US prisons. Luis was a member of the FALN Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (Armed Forces of National Liberation) a clandestine armed organization that fought to free Puerto Rico from US colonialism. In 1999 Luis was pardoned by then President Clinton. In Sacrifice Without Hesitation he tells his story of how he became politicized, his arrest, his imprisonment and subsequent freedom.


The third web series was John Penley: Anarcho-Yippie a six-part series on my friend John Penley. John was a freelance photojournalist who documented NYC’s Lower East Side counter-culture movement for two decades. He donated his archive of 30,000 images to NYU’s Tamiment Library. After losing his job and his home he joined the Occupy movement and lived on the streets protesting. In the winter of 2013 he decide to protest NYU’s rampant expansion plans that are accelerating gentrification. During the day he worked on his archive at the library and at night slept outside of the library on the sidewalk by night in the cold, wet and snow while the archive he donated to their library was safe, warm and dry. i spoke to John about his life, his work, his politics, his protest with NYU and NYC’s larger gentrification issues and his unique point of view on the future.

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Mandela And Filiberto

Filiberto & Mandela by vagabond ©
Filiberto & Mandela by vagabond ©

“History is written by the victors.”
– common saying mostly attributed to Winston Chuchill

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
– Moises Santos (my grandfather)

With the physical passing of Nelson Mandela many will remember him as the man who brought freedom, democracy and reconciliation to South Africa. In this remembrance it’s important to note that this is being made possible because South Africans won their prolonged decades long battle with the Apartheid state. When the old adage ‘history is written by the victors’ is trotted out it’s usually in reference to the untold story of injustice that gets trampled beneath the victors parade. The losers always seem to lose more than the battle, they lose the ability to have their story told. They lose the ability to control the historical narrative. The history of the struggle against the apartheid state in South Africa and it’s victory inverted this. The victory in South Africa was not an effort to exclude a history but a means of including one that had been kept silenced.

In the case of Nelson Mandela if the South Africans hadn’t won their battle against the apartheid state then Nelson Mandela might have never been freed and his death in a prison cell would merely have been a new rallying cry to end apartheid in South Africa. The thing that allows political prisoners to become presidents is victory. My grandfather used to say – ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ and there is a heavy unspoken truth there. The unspoken truth is that in order to go from terrorist to freedom fighter you first need to win and winning means controlling the historical narrative.

This idea of controlling the historical narrative is important. In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan had the ANC (African National Congress) labeled as terrorist group and since Nelson Mandela was a member of the ANC he was a terrorist. Los Macheteros a clandestine armed organization fighting to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule is today listed as a terrorist group and in 2005 the assassination of freedom fighter Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios who was the founder of Los Macheteros was labeled a terrorist. It was that label that allowed the FBI to assassinate him. Comandante Filiberto believed that armed struggle was a right afforded to Puerto Ricans towards the end of freeing Puerto Rico from US colonial rule. Not unlike Nelson Mandela who before he was arrested by the apartheid state of South Africa and sentenced to life in prison felt that violence was the only response left to the brutality Black South Africans faced.

Before Comandante Filiberto was assassinated he was a fugitive who went into clandestinity in 1990. Shortly after he went into clandestinity he did a television interview with a journalist in an effort to explain his thought process and his actions. It was the most watched television program in the history of Puerto Rico. This holds a strange parallel to an interview Nelson Mandela gave in 1960 to a journalist shortly after he went into clandestinity. In both interviews both Filiberto and Mandela speak about the brutality of their oppressors and the right for their people to defend themselves by any means against that brutality.

The widely accepted historical narrative written by the US is that Comandante Filiberto is a terrorist. When he was assassinated by the FBI he was labeled a terrorist because Puerto Ricans have not yet won their freedom from US colonialism and because they haven’t yet won their freedom the don’t control the historical narrative. The US controlled historical narrative dictates that Puerto Rican freedom fighting group like Los Machetero or the FALN be labeled as terrorists. In much the same way that the ANC was labeled a terrorist by the US government. That very same historical narrative also dictates that Filiberto is a terrorist in the same way that Nelson Mandela was at one time considered to be a terrorist by the US government.

i think that the life of Nelson Mandela is posing a question to the US, that the US is doing it’s best to ignore. Who are the freedom fighters in the US that are being labeled as terrorists? Who are the “terrorists” today that are languishing in prison right now who, but for having victory, would be freedom fighters?  In the struggle to free Puerto Rico from over 115 years of US colonial rule there’s Oscar Lopez Rivera who’s been held in US prisons charged with the very same charge Nelson Mandela was charged with, seditious conspiracy. Oscar’s been in prison for 32 years, 5 years longer and counting, than the 27 years Mandela served.

President Obama says he was inspired by Nelson Mandela. He said that his first political action was working with the anti-apartheid movement. He says he was inspired by the ability of Nelson Mandela to reconcile the transgressions of the past with truth. And yet there’s this disconnect between former political prisoner Nelson Mandela turned global heroic icon and and current US held political prisoners Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal, Ruchell Cinque Magee, Eddie Conway, Sekou Odinga, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Jalil Muntaqim and David Gilbert to name but a few that are currently being held in US prisons. Most of them, if not all of them held in prison longer than Nelson Mandela.

It’s good that Nelson Mandela is being remembered for the freedom fighter that he is. He should be remembered for that. History should exonerate him for ever labeling him a terrorist. The US only took Mandela off their list of terrorists in 2008. But this collective historical exoneration of his “terrorist” past is selective. There are others who are struggling right now, languishing in prisons right now, for believing the very same things Mandela believed, for having the same politic as Mandela. What happens to them? How do you honor the former political prisoner Nelson Mandela and refuse to recognize the political prisoners currently being held by the US government? What will it take for the US government to recognize the their “terrorist” political prisoners are our freedom fighters… and in strange sense theirs too…?

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An Anarchist Panther on MACHETERO

Ashanti Alston The Anarchist Panther on MACHETERO by vagabond ©
Ashanti Alston The Anarchist Panther on MACHETERO by vagabond ©

“When i saw Machetero i thought, young director from the hood… actors from the hood… shoe-string budget with never enough… and finally a badaassss movie with  the courage to produce a really alive and resurgent revolutionary DIY message from the unconquerable urban jibaro. With an underground spirit this movie is a prescription for doing the impossible. What a breath of fresh Puerto Rican beach air in these stank neo-liberal US imperial times! You can smell the thick sweet scent of insurgent Libertad!  A must see. No really, a MUST see.”
– Ashanti Alston

 Ashanti Alston Omowali is an anarchist activist, speaker, and writer, and former member of the Black Panther Party. He was also a member of the Black Liberation Army, and spent more than a decade in prison after government forces captured him (and the official court system convicted him) of armed robbery.

Ashanti is a former northeast coordinator for Critical Resistance, currently co-chair of the National Jericho Movement (to free U.S. political prisoners), a member of pro-Zapatista people-of-color U.S.-based Estación Libre, and is on the board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies.

For more info on Ashanti Alston check out his website…



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