NEW YORK CITY – The annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade has fallen into turmoil as sponsors and fire and police representatives drop their sponsorship over the parade committee’s decision to use the event to honor Oscar López Rivera – a convicted terrorist whose sentence President Barack Obama commuted, and who was released this month.
The New York Yankees, Coca-Cola, JetBlue, and AT&T all pulled out of the June 11 parade this week in the wake of the parade committee’s decision to award López Rivera, an activist who enabled acts of terrorism in the name of Puerto Rican independence, the title of “national freedom hero.” Goya pulled out of the parade last week, yanking $200,000 of patronage, according to local lawmakers.
In addition to sponsors, representatives of the city’s fire and police departments have also rescinded their support. The New York Police Department confirmed to Breitbart News that Commissioner James P. O’Neill will not attend the event over the decision to honor López Rivera, while the NYPD and FDNY’s Hispanic societies have both withdrawn from the parade. The union representing New York’s firefighters also withdrew its support.
The controversy centers around López Rivera’s role as a key member of the radical Marxist Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), which conducted more than 100 bombings in the United States in the seventies and eighties, killing five people, injuring dozens, and causing millions of dollars worth of damage.
López Rivera was convicted on charges of transporting guns and bombs and was released this month after serving 35 years. Obama commuted his sentence in January. When he was released, López Rivera denied being a terrorist and thanked the governments of Venezuela and Cuba for their support, while reiterating the right for “colonized people” to use force.
“Let me say this: We are a colonized people, and according to international law, that says all colonized people have a right to struggle for its independence using all methods within reach, including force,” López Rivera said, according to the New York Times. “That is a right.”
In a statement this month, the parade organizers stood by their decision to honor López Rivera, whom they conceded was “a controversial figure” who does not represent all Puerto Ricans.
“Some people call him a terrorist while others think of him as a freedom fighter, as was the case with Nelson Mandela,” the statement said.
The organizers said the intention was to honor those who worked to have his sentence commuted and to raise “awareness about Oscar López Rivera’s story, the grave colonial situation in Puerto Rico and the identity questions that continue to arise, even today.”
“Nevertheless, Oscar’s participation is not an endorsement of the history that led to his arrest, nor any form of violence. But rather a recognition of a man and a nation’s struggle for sovereignty,” the statement said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he still intends to march in the parade.
“The parade committee made a choice this year on someone to honor,” de Blasio said, according to the Times. “That does not change the basic nature of the parade. Whether you agree with that choice or not, it’s still the Puerto Rican parade and my point is, I will be there to honor the Puerto Rican people. I intend on marching. It’s as simple as that.”
Adam Shaw is a politics reporter for Breitbart News based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.