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Despite losing sponsors, Puerto Rican parade organizers insist on honoring freed nationalist

By on May 23, 2017

NEW YORK — More sponsors have dropped out of New York City’s Puerto Rican Day parade after a decision by organizers to honor a freed nationalist who once embraced armed resistance to the U.S. rule of Puerto Rico.

AT&T and JetBlue Airways are the latest sponsors to skip the parade.

Oscar López Rivera spent more than 35 years in prison before his sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama. He was a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, which claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings across New York, Chicago, Washington, and Puerto Rico in the 1970s and 1980s, including a blast that killed four people and injured 60 at New York’s historic Fraunces Tavern in 1975.

Dallas-based AT&T Inc. said it celebrates Puerto Ricans and “their rich heritage” but would be withdrawing support from the parade this year.

In this May 18, 2017 file photo, Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, center, who pardoned by former President Barack Obama in January, arrives for a gathering in his honor in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. (Charles Rex Arbogast, File/AP)

JetBlue said the debate was dividing the community and it would instead redirect funds to support student scholarships.

“We did not make this decision lightly and hope all sides will come together to engage in a dialogue about the parade’s role in unifying the community at a time when Puerto Rico needs it most,” New York-based JetBlue Airways Corp. said in a statement.

These are just the latest of companies and organizations that decided to distance themselves from the controversial move. Goya Foods already dropped out but said it was a business decision. Hispanic societies in both the Fire Department of New York and the New York Police Department have said they would not be sending delegations this year, and the police commissioner said he wouldn’t march. Law enforcement officers were among those injured in the FALN blasts.

Puerto Rican Day Parade organizers support honoring Oscar López Rivera

While family members of FALN’s victims are puzzled and offended over the decision to honor López Rivera, parade organizers stand firm. Organizers clarified that don’t condone violence, but they insisted the move will shed light on important issues that affect Puerto Ricans.

“It will create awareness on issues, even if controversial, that affect us as a Puerto Rican community,” they said in a statement. “We will continue to represent all voices, with an aim to spark dialogue and find common ground, so that we can help advance our community and build cultural legacy.”

The 74-year-old López Rivera has thousands of supporters who see him as a political prisoner, jailed for seeking independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. López Rivera wasn’t convicted in any of the bombings.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is still marching, and more than 30 city lawmakers, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born in Puerto Rico, said they supported the decision to honor Lopez Rivera.

“Oscar’s presence will lift people’s spirits and bring attention to the challenges that must be immediately addressed on the island,” they said. López Rivera was released last week from house arrest in Puerto Rico, where he’d been since his sentence was commuted in January.

Terrorist or hero? Puerto Rican nationalist to be freed

Meanwhile, back in Puerto Rico locals are divided over the same issue. With some condoning his involvement in the leftist movement and others denouncing him a terrorist, as well as questioning his support of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, the island’s bipartisan politics–chiefly, nationalism v. annexationism–come into play.

The island will hold a national political-status referendum on June 11, the same day as the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

The plebiscite, established under the Immediate Decolonization Act, originally included the options for “statehood” and “free association / independence” in its ballot, but after the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) lobbied in Washington, the U.S. Attorney General ordered the administration to include the present territorial status. This, in turn, prompted the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) to remove their endorsement, while the PDP declared a boycott, despite their intensive lobbying. Thus, the New Progressive Party (NPP) is the only collective standing and it is directing its efforts toward campaigning for statehood.


Caribbean Business reporter Giovanna Garofalo contributed to this story.

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