NYC Mayor Defends Puerto Rican Day Parade Honor for Nationalist Oscar López Rivera

People march to demand the release of Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera near the White House in Washington, DC, Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the organizers of the city’s Puerto Rican Day Parade for planning to give their first-ever “National Freedom Hero” designation to long-imprisoned Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera, who was released yesterday after a 36-year imprisonment for treason.

Earlier this month, the parade’s leadership—including Puerto Rican-born City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—said that it will give the former member of the Marxist-Leninist Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación guerrilla faction the unique honor at the 60th annual parade next month. In January, former President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of López Rivera, sentenced to 70 years for seditious conspiracy, robbery, transportation of explosives and firearms and an attempt to escape federal prison.

De Blasio said that the organization with which he was affiliated “did things that I don’t agree with and that were illegal”—including orchestrating a string of deadly bombings, a blast at the Wall Street-area Fraunces Tavern among them—but emphasized that López Rivera since renounced terrorism and served honorably during the Vietnam War despite “having “real political differences over how Puerto Rico was being treated.”

“All things considered, I understand why so many Puerto Ricans—that’s almost 700,000 people in this city—respect that he fought for Puerto Rico in their eyes,” he said during an unrelated press conference in Queens this afternoon. “Don’t agree with the way he did it, but he did serve his time.”

The liberal Democratic mayor said he would attend and take part in the festivities as he and his predecessors have in the past.

“He was pardoned appropriately, he has renounced violence. So I’m going to do everything I would normally do with the parade,” he said.

The FALN admitted that it responsible for at least 70 bombings in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. between 1974 and 1983. But López Rivera and his arrested comrades maintained that they are enemy combatants, and therefore cannot be subject to the American criminal justice system.

His sentence was related to his work as a bomb-maker, smuggler of weapons and a trainer of armed guerrillas, and not for personally detonating any of the FALN’s lethal armaments.

In 1999, outgoing President Bill Clinton offered to commute López Rivera’s sentence as well as those of all but two of his co-defendants given that he was never convicted of specific crimes that resulted in deaths or injuries. The sole prerequisite was that the convict repudiate violence.

But López Rivera turned down Clinton’s offer, saying that he did not want to abandon the other members of his community. If he had agreed, he would have been released from prison in 2009.

He has since backed off that stance, telling the Associated Press the use of terror has been “discarded.”