A Puerto Rican nationalist at the center of a growing controversy over his role as an honoree in New York's iconic Puerto Rican Day Parade has stepped aside and will instead participate in the event as a "humble Puerto Rican."
In an editorial in New York's Daily News, Oscar López Rivera wrote, "I will be on Fifth Ave. not as your honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather who at 74 continues to be committed to helping raise awareness about the fiscal, health care and human rights crisis Puerto Rico is facing at this historic juncture."
The Daily News had reported that a City Hall source had said it had been pushing for López Rivera to step aside. The parade's board of directors issued a statement Thursday night confirming he would no longer be an honoree. "We are looking forward to marching with Oscar López Rivera and respect his decision to walk up Fifth Avenue, 'not as an honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.'"
Organizers had chosen to honor López Rivera as its first-ever "National Freedom Hero" and have him march at the front of the parade on June 11. This resulted in the loss of major sponsors, including Goya Foods, Jet Blue, AT&T, Coca Cola and Univision, Telemundo and NBC4 (Telemundo and NBC 4 are part of NBCUniversal, which also owns NBCNews.com).
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López Rivera is a former member of the group FALN, a Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation. In the 1970s and 1980s FALN claimed responsibility for a campaign of bombings in New York City, Chicago, and other cities. In New York City, FALN was linked to the 1975 blast at Fraunces Tavern, which killed four people and wounded many others.
López Rivera was not charged with carrying out any bombings or acts of violence, as his supporters have stressed. He served 35 years in prison for sedition, transportation of firearms with intent to commit violent crimes, and transportation of explosives with intent to kill and injure people and to destroy government property. His sentence was commuted by President Obama in January.
Angelo Falcón, a political scientist and co-founder of the National institute for Latino Policy, told NBC Latino in a recent interview that he was not surprised at the controversy, saying there was a "real miscalculation by the parade board around the Oscar López Rivera issue."
Falcón said that while many people in Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland had rallied for Rivera's release, honoring him at the parade was a "different matter."
Howard Jordán, an attorney and professor at Hostos Community College, recently told NBC Latino that the controversy shows the lack of understanding of the Puerto Rican experience.
"People don't understand that Oscar was, essentially, a reflection of the oppression of the Puerto Rican community here on the mainland and on the island," said Jordán. López Rivera, he said, is a U.S. veteran with a Bronze Star, but that is rarely mentioned in press accounts.
The highest ranking Latina in New York City, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and 35 elected city officials had supported the Parade board for honoring Lopez Rivera, saying he represented the "voice, tenacity and resolve of Puerto Rico and its people."
But groups including the FDNY Hispanic Society said they would not participate in the parade. "We are not attacking Oscar," FDNY's José Prosper told NBC Latino in a recent interview. "We just do not want to be part of anything that is honoring the group FALN."
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio praised López Rivera's decision to step aside as an honoree, calling it a "critical step forward in refocusing our city's attention on the more important issues facing Puerto Rico."