The decision to honor Oscar Lopez Rivera, who served 35 years in prison for his activities with the FALN, has been controversial since it was announced by the organizers of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 11.
But things have really picked up since Monday, and over the course of 72 hours parade organizers gained considerable political support in the city, but have begun hemorrhaging major financial backers.
Lopez Rivera, 74, was convicted in 1981 of charges including seditious conspiracy, interstate transportation of firearms and ammunition to aid in the commission of a felony and interstate transportation of stolen vehicles.
He was not directly tied to the more than 100 bombings carried out by the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberaci—n Nacional, or FALN, a leftist Puerto Rican independence group.
In December 1974 a bomb planted by the group in East Harlem went off, injuring rookie Police Officer Angel Poggi so seriously on his first day on the job that he was forced to leave the NYPD on disability.
The group also claimed credit for a bombing at Fraunces Tavern in January 1975 that killed four and injured 50; and four more explosions in Manhattan on April 3, 1975. Lopez Rivera was not implicated in any of the New York bombings. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison, and subsequently got an additional 12 for plotting an escape.
Offered clemency in 1999 by President Bill Clinton on the condition that he renounce violence, Lopez Rivera refused. President Barack Obama granted a commutation — not the same as a pardon — in January. He completed his sentence under house arrest this month.
On Monday, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan, Bronx), a native of Puerto Rico, released a letter to the parade’s board commending the organization “for recognizing that Oscar Lopez Rivera represents the voice, tenacity and resolve of Puerto Rico and its people.”
The letter, signed by 30 members of the City Council including seven who represent Queens, concludes by saying, “We stand in solidarity with Oscar and express our full support for the board’s decision to recognize and uplift the legacy of Oscar Lopez Rivera.”
Other less controversial honorees include Grand Marshal Gilberto Santa Rosa, a band leader and singer; actress Lana Parilla; musician Bobby Cruz; tennis player Monica Puig and gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez; among others.
The Queens Council members who signed on include Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria); Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights); Julissa Ferreras Copeland (D-East Elmhurst); Peter Koo (D-Flushing); Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans); Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Queens) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton).
Mayor de Blasio has said he intends to march in the parade. But NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will not. Nor will the Hispanic fraternal organizations of the NYPD and FDNY.
Now a parade of sponsors appear heading out the door.
“The National Puerto Rican Day Parade NPRDP) is a non-profit 501c3 and depends on the support of sponsors that share our values ...” The statement is from the first sentence under the section titled “Becoming A Sponsor” on the parade’s website.
And while longtime sponsor Goya Foods pulled out several days ago citing business reasons, Monday and Tuesday saw a parade of backers heading out the door, including AT&T, Long Island City’s JetBlue, Corona beer, Coca-Cola and the New York Yankees.
The Chronicle contacted the offices of all Queens Council members to ask about either their reasons for signing the letter or whether they intend to march. A handful responded via email.
“Oscar Lopez Rivera was pardoned by President Obama because he was never convicted of a violent crime,” Councilman Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) wrote. “He is one of a number of people being honored at the parade for his work highlighting the struggles of his people. The parade is an event that gives all of us an opportunity to celebrate the Puerto Rican people and I proudly support their efforts.
“Additionally, I am curious as to why some people are so unwilling to give Oscar a second chance but glowingly highlight a visit from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to dedicate Easter Rising Way in Maspeth [last November] an effort that I also supported.”
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) said she was not attending the parade but that her reasons had nothing to do with Lopez Rivera.
She also took issue with any implied criticism tying Adams, a leader in Northern Ireland Sinn Fein political movement, to terrorism. While he had been imprisoned by the British as a young man, he has continuously denied involvement with the Irish Republican Army, a violent revolutionary group long tied to Sinn Fein.
“Adams was central to bringing peace to a long, bloody conflict in Northern Ireland,” Crowley wrote. “I’m pleased that while he was visiting New York City, he could make time to celebrate a historic moment in Maspeth at the co-naming of Easter Rising Way.”
Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) will attend.
“I opposed the commutation of Oscar Lopez Rivera’s sentence, and two years ago I voted against the City Council resolution calling for his early release from prison, but I will be joining thousands of my constituents in marching in this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade to celebrate the many accomplishments and contributions of New York’s Puerto Rican community in every aspect of our City’s life,” Lancman wrote
A spokesman for Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said she would not attend but also has not done so in the past and seldom marches anymore in parades she does attend.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) tweeted that he won’t attend.
“I won’t march with a madman who refuses to denounce violence,” he wrote.