A week after several sponsors pulled out of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Oscar López Rivera announced he won’t be the guest of honor. Organizers for this year’s parade planned to designate OLR a National Freedom Hero – a decision met with swift backlash. Sponsors like Coca-Cola, the New York Yankees, AT&T, and JetBlue chose to back out last week. Some Puerto Ricans even said they’d boycott the parade for paying tribute to López, who’s seen as both a hero and a terrorist.
In 1981, the government found López Rivera guilty of seditious conspiracy and other non-violent crimes after linking him to a Chicago weapons storehouse. The government never tied López Rivera to a specific bombing. But he belonged to the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) – a paramilitary organization advocating for the independence of Puerto Rico. FALN claimed responsibility for the bombing attacks on more than 120 sites that occurred between 1974 and 1980.
Originally sentenced to 55 years in prison, he received additional time after his 1988 escape attempt. At the beginning of this year, President Barack Obama commuted his sentence. On May 17, López Rivera was freed after serving 35 years. Many celebrated his release, but not everyone feels he deserves praise.
As such, López Rivera sparked controversy for the parade. And as the event inched closer, questions of how it would go on began to arise. In an op-ed published on the New York Daily News, Lopez Rivera explained how he came to his decision. “The honor should not be for me; it should be bestowed on our pioneers who came to the United States and opened doors,” he wrote. “It should go for activists and elected officials who fight for justice and a fair society. It should go to the many companies that thought not showing a float on June 11 have continued to support our future through scholarship funds.
“I will be on Fifth Ave. not as your honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather who at 74 continues to be committed to helping raise awareness about the fiscal, health care, and human rights crisis Puerto Rico is facing at this historic juncture.”
With PR beginning what’s bound to be a years-long bankruptcy process, López Rivera explained that the controversy put him at the center. Taking himself out of the spotlight, he said, will shift the focus back to the future of Puerto Rico. Back in June 2016, the US Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability (PROMESA) Act in order to address the island’s more than $70 billion debt. The bill authorized a seven-member control board – not elected by those who’ll most feel the effects – to make decisions, with the power to supersede the Puerto Rican government.
According to Latino USA, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade’s Board followed up with a message that stated, “We are looking forward to marching with Oscar López Rivera and respect his decision to walk up Fifth Avenue, ‘not as an honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.’ Now we can focus again on important issues and the plight of Puerto Rico.”
Read the rest of López Rivera’s op-ed here.