NEW YORK – Organizers of New York City’s Puerto Rican Day parade are sticking with their decision to honor a freed militant who once embraced armed resistance against AMERICAN domination of Puerto Rico, despite a promised boycott by the Spanish police and the critique of salsa star Willie Colon.
New York Police Commissioner James O’neill on Monday was the last person to say that he would not march in the parade by the decision to recognize Oscar Lopez Rivera, who served dozens of years in prison for his involvement in The army of National Liberation, or FALN.
During the 1970s and 1980s, FALN claimed responsibility for over 100 attacks in New York, Chicago, Washington and Puerto Rico, including a blast that killed four people at New York’s historic Fraunces Tavern in 1975.
Lopez Rivera was convicted in one of the bombings, but a former FALN member testified that he instructed members on how to make bombs, detonators, and silencers. While serving his sentence, Lopez Rivera was convicted for hatching a plot to escape from prison using explosives and a helicopter.
He worked for 35 years, until his sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama.
The 74-year-old thousands of supporters who see him as a political prisoner, condemned for seeking independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.
The board of directors of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, issued a statement Monday defending their decision to use the name of Lopez Rivera as “Procer de la Libertad” — the National liberation Hero — for the June 11 parade.
“We understand that others are not able to be with us,” the statement said. “However, we will continue to represent all of the voices, with the purpose of the spark of the dialogue and finding common ground, so that we advance our community and cultural heritage.”
The New York Police Department’s Hispanic Society, which in the past has sent a few hundred officers to the parade, announced last week that he would not participate this year. Some of those permanently maimed in the FALN bombing were police officers.
“We take a position in support of the members of the service who were seriously injured and with the families of the innocent people who lost their lives,” society president Jenimarie Garcia-Cruz said in a statement.
The Rafael Ramos foundation, a non-profit name for a gender officer who raises awareness of the danger of the enforcement of the law, is also skipping the parade.
O’neill said, that he could attend to offer support to agents who are working but would not march. When asked whether he thought Lopez Rivera was a terrorist, he said: “on the Basis of his actions … I think the answer would be yes.”
Goya Foods, which has sponsored every parade since it began in 1958, said that would not do it this year, calling it a business decision.
An online petition demands that the title be revoked, has about 2,000 signatures. Colon, the Puerto Rican salsa singer, wrote on his blog that the organizers of the parade went too far, but he held it briefly to say he would skip.
“I am forced to denounce terrorism in any form for any reason,” he wrote.
Lopez Rivera remains a beloved figure among many of New York and Puerto Ricans.
City council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born in Puerto Rico, and more than 30 other lawmakers sent a letter to the parade in the council of Monday praised the decision to honor Lopez Rivera.
“As countless families continue to struggle in Puerto Rico, the current fiscal crisis, Oscar is a reminder of the hope that is always anchored to the Island — and that is the reason why we are fully behind your efforts,” the letter said.
Lopez Rivera was released last week from house arrest in Puerto Rico, where he had been since his sentence was commuted in January. He got a hero’s welcome and then traveled to Chicago, where a parade was thrown in his honor and a street sign bearing his name was unveiled.