Puerto Rico nationalist passed up award
for New York parade's good: official
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[June 12, 2017]
By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Puerto Rican
nationalist, vilified for his alleged links to a deadly bombing
campaign, decided on his own to pass up a special award that Puerto
Rican Day Parade organizers wanted to give him, hoping to dispel the
rancor that had enveloped the New York event, an official said.
Even so, Oscar Lopez Rivera still wanted to march in the annual
celebration of Puerto Rican heritage, said Louis Maldonado, a member of
the parade's board. This year was the first opportunity he had to do so
since being released from prison after serving 35 years on sedition
“The reality is we did not convince him to do that. This was his
decision. His decision alone," Maldonado told WABC-TV when asked if
organizers bowed to political pressure by dropping plans to give Lopez
Rivera a "National Freedom Hero" award.
"He did so because he saw the level of divisiveness that was happening
in our community," Maldonado said.
As the parade marched up Fifth Avenue on Sunday morning, there was
little sign of the firestorm of criticism that has surrounded the event
since organizers announced their plans.
Thousands of cheering spectators lined the route, many of them waving
small Puerto Rican flags. The crowd applauded wildly as Lopez Rivera,
74, rode past on a colorful float decorated with leaping fish. He gave a
"thumbs up" and thrust a clenched fist in the air.
Organizers expected 1.5 million to watch Sunday's event, held the same
day as the U.S. territory holds a referendum on statehood.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was among the public figures who decided
against marching in the parade once it was known Lopez Rivera was being
considered as the honoree. New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent
Association, the nation's largest police union, called for a boycott of
the annual celebration by Americans with roots on the Caribbean island,
home to 3.5 million residents.
JetBlue Airways Corp, AT&T Inc and other major advertisers pulled their
sponsorships over Lopez Rivera's participation.
"I think it's good that he declined it because it was entirely
distracting from the issue at hand, which is Puerto Rico," Mayor Bill de
Blasio, who planned to march all along, said last week. "That’s the only
thing this parade should have been about."
In 1981, Lopez Rivera was convicted of sedition and other charges, along
with other members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by
its Spanish-language acronym as FALN. U.S. authorities said the group
was responsible for dozens of bombings in the 1970s and 1980s in a
campaign to secure Puerto Rico's independence.
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Puerto Rican Oscar Lopez
Rivera attends a rally in his honour after being released from house
arrest in San Juan, Puerto Rico May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Lopez Rivera, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison, plus 15
additional years for a foiled escape plot, was freed in January
during President Barack Obama's final days in office.
Lopez Rivera's supporters, including "Hamilton" playwright
Lin-Manuel Miranda and other celebrities, view him as a symbol of
Puerto Rican nationalism and the campaign to end what they see as
the colonial status of the U.S. territory, acquired by the United
States after the Spanish-American War.
Critics of the decision to honor Rivera say he is a convicted
criminal who helped carry out the 1975 bombing of New York's
Fraunces Tavern and other deadly attacks. No one was ever charged in
connection with that bombing.
After Lopez Rivera declined the award, City Council Speaker Melissa
Mark-Viverito said publicly she would find a way to honor him at the
Currently, Puerto Rico is struggling with $70 billion in debt, a 45
percent poverty rate and critically underfunded healthcare and
pension systems. A federal oversight board appointed by U.S.
Congress is managing its finances.
Against that backdrop, Puerto Ricans on Sunday will cast votes on
whether their struggling island should become the 51st U.S. state.
Even if islanders vote in favor of statehood in the referendum,
Puerto Rico's fifth since 1967, statehood would require an act of
the U.S. Congress.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Timothy
Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio and Nick Zieminski)
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