With Olympics mania, more mass shooting mayhem, presidential election antics and withering heat dominating recent news coverage it’s easy to understand how the American media could miss the mission of one man currently kayaking across the Caribbean Ocean.
This man known as “Tito Kayak” is on his solo paddle voyage to protest against political prisoners held in the United States, particularly one Puerto Rican nationalist languishing in prison for more than thirty-years.
This political prisoner topic — driving Puerto Rican environmental activist Alberto de Jesus into making his cross-Caribbean trek in a tiny kayak during hurricane season — is not a subject of interest for the American media which concentrates inordinately on covering celebrity in political, financial, sports and entertainment circles.
The rare times most American news media get interested in coverage of political prisoners is when those political prisoners are held by enemies of the United States.
Political prisoners in Cuba or Iran — the U.S. news media affords coverage.
Political prisoners in Pennsylvania prison cells, like Philadelphia’s MOVE 9 and Mumia Abu-Jamal — not news fit to broadcast, print or post by most mainstream American news entities.
“Tito Kayak” is paddling to increase awareness about the plight of elderly Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera who received a 70-year sentence in the early 1980s following a conviction for conspiring to overthrow the governments of the United States and Puerto Rico — the Caribbean island considered by some as a U.S. colony.
Many Puerto Ricans, including Rivera and the thirteen colleagues convicted with him, want Puerto Rico to become an independent country.
Other Puerto Ricans favor statehood within the United States for their island nation, while many like the current status of Puerto Rico being a commonwealth connected to the United States.
Oscar Lopez Rivera’s offense, according to federal officials, was his membership in FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist organization seeking independence for the country by any means necessary, including arms.
Federal authorities linked FALN to a series of bombings but did not specifically tie Rivera to any of those bombings, resting instead on the elastic, easy-to-win-conviction charge of conspiracy. Rivera continues to deny having any role in bombings or violence.
In 1999, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton granted clemency to Rivera and 11 of the 14 people convicted with him. Rivera refused the clemency offer citing the offer not covering all 14 and his disagreement with post-release restrictions.
The United Nations, in 2006, called for the release of Rivera. A U.S. congressional subcommittee and Amnesty International have criticized the prison conditions endured by those FALN inmates including assaults and denial of medical attention.
In March 2011, authorities slapped down Rivera’s parole request ordering Rivera to wait another fifteen years before permitting him another parole hearing.
Recalcitrant, manipulative parole procedures also mark the case the MOVE 9 — persons serving sentences arising from an August 8, 1978, incident involving the deaths of a Philadelphia policeman that dismissed evidence strongly indicates they did not commit.
The MOVE 9 (now 8 due to the in-prison death of one) have served the minimum of their 30- to 100-year prison sentence, but state parole authorities routinely reject their parole requests on specious grounds.
Parole authorities, for example, rejected the release requests of two imprisoned male MOVE members citing their failure to take anger management training when that pair had both taken the training and were instructing other prisoners in anger management with the approval of prison officials.
The topic of political prisoners in the U.S. is apparently taboo for most American mainstream news media.
In the late 1970s, for example, the U.S. news media routinely carried stories of Amnesty International adopting political prisoners held in torturous conditions by Soviet communists.
But in the late ’70s when AI released its first-ever list of American political prisoners, the U.S. news media all but blacked out that news.
That list included one Philadelphian, Imari Obadele, a Black nationalist and reparations advocate then serving a federal prison sentence arising from a conviction secured through misconduct by federal prosecutors and FBI agents — misconduct proven through detailed FBI documents grudgingly released years after Obadele’s trial.
Philadelphia news media ignored that AI report listing Obadele.
The news media’s general “see-no-evil” coverage practices regarding rights denials/injustices involving politically active non-whites extends across the Atlantic Ocean.
During last year’s rioting in England — which began in London on August 6 — British media was in lock-step with the view of British Prime Minister David Cameron who angrily declared rioters represented “mindless criminality, pure and simple.”
During the height of that August 2011 rioting, a BBC interviewer created controversy by castigating respected Black journalist/activist Darcus Howe for correctly showing that some of the rioting was an “insurrection” by young people upset with police abuses and economic deprivations similar to the Arab Spring.
The BBC later publicly apologized to Howe for the tacky behavior of its interviewer.
Howe, an elder statesman in London’s Afro-Caribbean community, said during a December 2011 Philadelphia Tribune interview, that his “opposing the political line of the BBC” produced the interviewer’s “insult.”
Tito Kayak’s 1,400-mile trek from Venezuela to Puerto Rico, stopping at islands along the way, has news value from just showing one man covering such a distance.
If Tito Kayak paddled to show strength from drinking bullion broth and not the plight of political prisoners he’d receive featured network and cable news coverage.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.