The New York Yankees, the New York City Police Commissioner and other companies and public figures have refused to participate in the city’s notorious Puerto Rican Day Parade this year after organizers chose to honor the co-founder of an extremist Marxist-Leninist paramilitary group.
Oscar López Rivera—the 74-year-old man chosen as the parade’s “National Freedom Hero”—helped lead the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a Puerto Rican separatist group that the FBI says committed more than 100 bombings. The attacks led to deaths and injuries and caused millions of dollars in damage.
López Rivera was freed this month after President Obama granted him clemency in January. He had spent 35 years in prison for seditious conspiracy, attempted robbery, and transporting weapons and explosives with the intent to kill or injure.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, López Rivera said, “I do not have blood on my hands, and that’s why I cannot be called a terrorist.”
Nevertheless, López Rivera defended the use of force in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence, saying that “all colonized people have a right to struggle for its independence using all methods within reach.”
In a statement Monday, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said he would not participate in the parade because they were honoring López Rivera. “I cannot support a man who was a co-founder of an organization that engaged in over 120 bombings, six people killed, and seriously injured four police officers,” O’Neill said.
The New York Yankees also declined to participate this year, though they will still provide scholarships directly to Puerto Rican students chosen by the parade organizers. Goya Foods, AT&T, Coca-Cola and JetBlue airlines have also backed out as corporate sponsors.
For many years, the Puerto Rican Day Parade has been controversial due to unruly and sometimes violent behavior by its participants. The mob-like behavior of paraders was famously satirized in a 1998 episode of Seinfeld (NBC ended up apologizing to the Puerto Rican community). In 2000, over 50 women reported being assaulted or harassed during the parade in notorious “wilding” incidents. The parade’s plans this year to honor López Rivera only add to the controversy.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he still intends to participate, even though López Rivera “was affiliated with things I don’t agree with.”
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is not only marching in the parade—she also flew to Puerto Rico to welcome López Rivera home from prison. She said earlier that she “can’t wait to just give him a hug.”
Their support has dismayed the family of Frank Connor, a 51-year-old father who died in 1975 after an FALN attack at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan. A nail-packed, dynamite-powered fragmentation bomb exploded around lunchtime, killing a total of four people and wounding more than 60.
At the time, the New York Daily News described a chaotic scene full of “dazed and screaming victims, one of them with an arm torn off.” As first responders rushed to help, FALN leaders called media and “gloated that one of its agents had planted the explosive device,” the newspaper said. In a note left behind in a nearby phone booth, FALN denounced the “reactionary corporate executives inside” the Financial District restaurant.
Politicians like Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito are “dismissing my dad’s life, while the terrorist, he matters,” Frank Connor’s son Joseph told DNA Info earlier this year. “It’s insanity.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.