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Puerto Rican Day Parade controversy

Oscar+Lopez+Rivera+with+City+Council+Speaker+Melissa+Mark-Viverito+on+the+lead+float+at+this+year%27s+Puerto+Rican+Day+Parade.
Oscar Lopez Rivera with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on the lead float at this year's Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Oscar Lopez Rivera with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on the lead float at this year's Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Oscar Lopez Rivera with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on the lead float at this year's Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Russell Stern, Editor

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The Puerto Rican Day Parade is an annual festival located on Fifth Avenue that celebrates the cherished culture and heritage of the Puerto Rican community. Usually, this parade honors Puerto Rican leaders who have made significant contributions to the United States government and leaders who have tried to help the commonwealth recover from its economic recession.

However, the parade held this year just recently on June 11th sparked a great deal of controversy and dissent, because it honored Puerto Rican nationalist and supposed “freedom fighter,” Oscar Lopez Rivera. Rivera, who participated in the parade, was the leader and co-founder of the terrorist organization FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation). This organization was responsible for horrendous violence against innocent American citizens.

Puerto Rican nationalists, including Rivera, formed the FALN, who strived to gain independence from the United States and essentially overthrow the U.S. government. This organization admitted responsibility for over 120 bombings of United States targets. Specifically, it claimed responsibility for the 1975 bombing of Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan, in which four police officers were killed and dozens of people were permanently maimed.

According to a man named Joe Connor, whose father was killed in the Fraunces Tavern attack, “I’m glad the parade’s over. I’m glad I didn’t watch it. He’s a terrorist. The idea of him being a freedom fighter, it’s insanity.” Lopez Rivera was convicted of seditious conspiracy and planning of the terrorist attack, and was sentenced to 70 years in federal prison. However, after 35 years, President Obama commuted his sentence and Rivera was free.

Among the important political figures who defended Rivera’s right to march in the parade, and marched in the parade themselves, were City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Viverito was one of the main figures who planned on presenting Rivera with a National Freedom Hero Award at the parade, although he declined the award most likely because this decision divided so many Puerto Ricans. According to the Daily News, Viverito stated that the controversy over Rivera’s participation was, “made up by the media and press.” She also said that, “people have the right not to march in the parade, but they don’t have the right to make up facts about Oscar Lopez Rivera.”

Lastly, according to the New York Post, Viverito claimed, “Rivera was not linked to any act of violence that hurt or killed anybody. He served 35 years, which is highly disproportionate…” This, however, contradicts the fact that Rivera was convicted of planning the Fraunces Tavern terrorist attack.

According to the New York Times, Bill de Blasio stated, “The organization he was affiliated with did things I don’t agree with, obviously, and they were illegal. But he served his time.” De Blasio also said in a statement to the press, “The parade has always been about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans, not any one participant. It is a celebration of a culture and community at the center of what makes New York City great. Unfortunately, the parade and the plight of Puerto Rico have been overshadowed by needless controversy.”

Essentially, both Viverito and de Blasio believe that the media sparked unnecessary controversy over Lopez Rivera’s participation and failed to recognize the parade’s true purpose and meaning.

Rivera declined to accept the National Freedom Hero Award offered to him by Viverito, stating that he was going to march in the parade as a “humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.” However, this didn’t satisfy many sponsors of the parade and other political figures who had refused to march in it this year. Major sponsors of the parade including the New York Yankees, Goya Foods, Coca-Cola, Telemundo and the New York City Fire Department still boycotted it.

Also, Police Commissioner James O’Neill and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who normally march in the Puerto Rican Day Parade, also announced that they would not be marching in the parade this year. According to the Daily News, O’Neill declared, “I cannot support a man who is a co-founder of an organization that engaged in over 120 bombings.”

In Cuomo’s statement to the press, he stated that he would be skipping the parade this year, although he did not give a reason why and did not mention anything about Oscar Lopez Rivera. In addition, a spokesman for Goya Foods, Rafael Toro, stated, “We made a business decision not to sponsor the parade this year. I think the important thing is that this year we’re not participating.” He made it clear that their company would not provide support to a parade that honors a terrorist.

Also, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association president Jake Lemonda stated, “Oscar Lopez Rivera’s actions led to the death and serious injury of innocent civilians and police officers. He is a convicted felon, plain and simple, and one who has not apologized for his cowardly attacks.”

The objection to Oscar Lopez Rivera’s participation was not limited to major corporate sponsors and public officials. His involvement also upset many Puerto Rican Americans. For example, Mark Rivera, a Bronx resident, (no relation to Lopez Rivera) told the New York Post, “This is a day for honoring the Republic of Puerto Rico, not a terrorist. This man has no place in our parade. He makes me feel ashamed to be a Puerto Rican.” Although Lopez Rivera is Puerto Rican himself, this definitely does not mean that all Puerto Ricans support him and stand for him, as indicated by this quote from Mark Rivera.

Coincidentally, this year’s parade was held on the same day that Puerto Ricans voted whether they wanted to become independent from the United States and become an actual state or remain as their current status as a commonwealth. The vote this year revealed that the majority of Puerto Ricans chose statehood. This shows that most of the Puerto Rican population who voted disagrees with Lopez Rivera’s idea that Puerto Rico should be an independent nation. For many years, Puerto Rico’s economy has been steadily declining, and the territory currently owes more than $123 billion in debt. Many Puerto Ricans believe that becoming an actual state of the U.S. will finally help solve their dire economic problems, and help it recover from its huge recession.

As it turned out, Lopez Rivera was not presented with the National Freedom Hero Award. However, he did not march like a “humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.” Instead, he made his appearance riding in the first major float that passed the Central Park gate, scowling defiantly. Melissa Mark-Viverito was right by his side. Bill de Blasio, on the other hand, purposely stayed 10 blocks behind Lopez Rivera while marching in the parade. He did this as a way of not insulting Puerto Ricans who wanted to celebrate their culture, nor insulting Puerto Rican Americans who were upset by Rivera’s participation.     

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Puerto Rican Day Parade controversy