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Puerto Rican Day Parade: Oscar Lopez Rivera won’t have ‘formal role,’ mayor says

A growing number of corporate sponsors of the 2017 Puerto Rican Day Parade have withdrawn support amid controversy over its choice of honoree, Oscar Lopez Rivera.
A growing number of corporate sponsors of the 2017 Puerto Rican Day Parade have withdrawn support amid controversy over its choice of honoree, Oscar Lopez Rivera. Photo Credit: Vincent Barone

Oscar Lopez Rivera will not have a “formal role” in the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday. 

Parade organizers had planned to honor the long-imprisoned leader of a separatist group tied to terrorist acts at the parade, sparking several sponsors and politicians, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to back out of the parade.

De Blasio expressed disappointment that the purpose of the June 11 parade was overshadowed by the controversy. 

“Puerto Rico and its 3.5 million people, many of whom are family and loved ones of New Yorkers, are in the midst of an economic collapse and health care crisis that threatens their future,” he said in a statement. “Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico deserve help from Washington and they are not receiving it. This should be our singular focus when it comes to Puerto Rico and our city’s parade.”

Lopez Rivera, 74, has been associated with FALN, a Spanish abbreviation for Armed Forces of National Liberation, a Marxist-Leninist group involved in bombings that killed civilians in the 1970s and ’80s.

One of the worst of those attacks was at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan in 1975, in which four people were killed and many more injured. No one was charged in that incident.

Lopez Rivera spent 35 years in prison for a conviction of transporting weapons and explosives with intent to kill or injure. He was released last week.

He has denied being involved in any violent activity.

Cuomo, along with Assemb. Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, had said they would not march in the parade after Lopez Rivera was chosen as an honoree. Sponsors, including AT&T, Coca-Cola, JetBlue airlines and Goya Foods, also backed out of the parade. 

Other politicians, including de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said they would march despite the controversy. Mark-Viverito has long defended Rivera, noting that he was never directly involved with any violence. She was in Puerto Rico for Rivera’s release from house arrest.

The National Puerto Rican Day Parade Inc. had defended its decision to honor Lopez Rivera in May, but said it respects his decision. 

“We are looking forward to marching with Oscar Lopez 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,” the organization said in a statement.

With Newsday and Reuters

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