The man at the center of ongoing controversy surrounding the Puerto Rican Day Parade has spoken out for the first time, urging the city to "move on" from his disputed National Freedom Hero designation, and to view his role in the parade "not as your honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather."
In a letter published Thursday by the Daily News, Oscar López Rivera, 74, lamented the "narrative around the Parade" and cautioned against letting "people who are unfamiliar with Puerto Rican history define the narrative and experiences of our community."
The former leader of the militant group Armed Forces of National Liberation, López served 35 years in prison on charges of transporting explosives and weapons with the intent to destroy government property. While he was never charged in direct connection with a bombing, his group was implicated in more than 100 bombings, including the Fraunces Tavern bombing that killed four people in 1975, as well as a New Year's Eve bombing of NYPD headquarters that injured three officers in 1983. FALN also bombed all three New York area airports.
López Rivera's sentence was commuted by Obama in January, and he was released from prison last month. He'd previously rejected a commutation offer by Bill Clinton that included the requirement that he renounce violence.
In the most recent statement, López Rivera addressed, somewhat vaguely, his feelings on violence, arguing that "we as a community have transcended violence—it's crucial for people to understand that we're not advocating anything that would be a threat to anyone." Asked by the Daily News to clarify these comments, López Rivera's lawyer said his client "stands for making Puerto Rico a place where people can live a life of justice and freedom; where debt and austerity does not cripple things like public education."
This fight against austerity facing the essentially bankrupt island is one that City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a longtime supporter of López Rivera, has also championed in recent months. During a May press conference, the Speaker drew a connection between the parade's most vocal critics and Puerto Rico's hardline conservatives.
"The campaign to try and discredit the parade is being orchestrated by the ultra-right-wing on the island who support statehood," Mark-Viverito told reporters outside City Hall. "This is coming out of the island, not from here in the city, it's important to recognize that."
But groups such as the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the the Hispanic societies of the FDNY and NYPD, along with Police Commissioner James O'Neill, say their boycott of the parade stems from López Rivera’s targeting of city personnel.
The concern that he was serving as an unnecessary distraction was echoed in López Rivera's comments: "This parade is happening at a time when Puerto Rico is facing a political and economic crisis that is impacting everyone on the island. Unfortunately, the narrative around the Parade is not celebration and concern for the situation on the island but rather misinformation about who I am and what I stand for."
Meanwhile, politicians and corporate sponsors continue to pull out of the parade. Hours after López Rivera released his statement, three progressive members of the city's congressional delegation—Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney and Hakeem Jeffries—announced they would not be marching. Last week, Univision joined Goya Foods, JetBlue, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Corona and the Yankees in pulling their sponsorship from the event. Governor Cuomo has also announced his intention to skip the parade, and while Mayor de Blasio has committed to marching, he recently distanced himself from López Rivera.
The Puerto Rican Day Parade is scheduled for Sunday, June 11th at 11 a.m.