NYC Puerto Rican Parade to Honor Nationalist Oscar López Rivera as a ‘Hero’

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito speaking at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade press conference at One World Observatory this morning. Madina Toure/Observer

The National Puerto Rican Day Parade announced today that it will give Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera—convicted in 1981 in connection with a wave of deadly bombings, including one that killed four at the Wall Street-are Fraunces Tavern—its first-ever “National Freedom Hero” designation at the 60th annual parade in June.

Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez, chairwoman of the parade, announced that the former member of the Marxist-Leninist Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional guerrilla faction will receive the designation at the annual cavalcade, which will take place  on June 11 along Fifth Avenue. In January, former President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Lopez Rivera, sentenced to 70 years for seditious conspiracy, robbery, transportation of explosives and firearms and an attempt to escape federal prison.

Obama set López Rivera’s incarceration to expire 34 years early on May 17, one of 209 pardons he issued before leaving office—a move Mayor Bill de Blasio defended.

Speaking at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade press conference at One World Observatory this morning, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—a Puerto Rico native and longtime supporter of López Rivera’s—said that she’s “really proud” of the fact that López Rivera “is returning to us.”

“I spoke to him on the way here and he wants to express his gratitude, he wants to express his gratitude to everybody who was supporting his campaign for his release and that he’s coming to New York with a lot of love,” she said.

Mark-Viverito petitioned for López Rivera’s release for years and sent him emails, visited him on a regular basis and asked Pope Francis to help him. She reiterated that she is happy to march by his side.

“It is really great to stand in solidarity with him,” she continued. “Thank you to the parade for recognizing him. Again, an issue that maybe a prior board would have been afraid to do but it’s the right thing to do and I’m so glad that he’s going to be joining us here today.”

During her speech, the speaker blasted the Washington-installed fiscal control board that she said is destroying unions, workers’ rights and the public higher education system in the interest of disposing of its crippling municipal debt. She also criticized Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello.

She that she is pleased to see the parade more aggressively taking on issues on the island, noting that that was not always the case in the past.

“They were afraid of taking a stand on any issues because their interests were more to cater to the corporate sponsors and not to scare them and so bringing this parade back to utilize it as a platform to highlight the issues and concerns and not being afraid of taking on the issues,” Mark-Viverito added.

The FALN admitted it was behind at least 70 bombings in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.—including the Fraunces Tavern blast—between 1974 and 1983. But López Rivera and his arrested comrades insisted they are enemy combatants, and thus not subject to the American criminal justice system.

Cortes-Vazquez said the parade’s decision to take a position on López Rivera was rooted in the fact that it consider him to be innocent.

“This year, we took a very bold stance and said, ‘Free Oscar López Rivera,” Cortes-Vazquez said. “Some people called him a terrorist, some people called him a nationalist, some people called him a freedom fighter and many different, different things. The point is the man was in prison with no crimes associated with him for 37 years and we thought it was a grave injustice and inhumane.”

Indeed, she said they are proud to have supported him.

“We are very, very proud that Oscar López Rivera has been freed and he’s gonna get a special title this year called the ‘National Freedom Hero,'” Cortes-Vazquez continued. “That is one title that will be bestowed only on Oscar.”