Lopez Rivera is both booed and cheered at Puerto Ri­can pa­rade

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY DENIZ CAM

NEW YORK | Os­car Lopez Rivera was cheered and booed as he stood proudly on a float when the Puerto Ri­can Day Pa­rade stepped off Sun­day with him as the “Na­tional Free­dom Hero” that or­ga­niz­ers had named him.

His sup­port­ers fol­lowed, car­ry­ing signs that read, “Os­car Lopez Rivera is our Man­dela.”

Nanchelle Rivera — no re­la­tion — was not among them. From the side­lines, the 28-year-old spec­ta­tor said she re­fuses to back the man who served 35 years in prison for his in­volve­ment with a group re­spon­si­ble for bomb­ings that killed and maimed dozens in the 1970s and 1980s.

“He did not rep­re­sent me,” said the young woman vis­it­ing from Or­lando, Florida.

She said she would not have come to watch the cel­e­bra­tion if she’d known Mr. Lopez Rivera would be there.

A sup­porter in the pa­rade heard her boo­ing, and shouted back, “This is your his­tory!”

For at least the first hour, the march al­layed fears that it might turn vi­o­lent given the fer­vent dis­cus­sions that for weeks pre­ceded the ac­tivist’s planned ap­pear­ance.

New York City Coun­cil Speaker Melissa Mark-Viver­ito tried to smooth out the ver­bal clashes that flew for weeks among those for and against Mr. Lopez Rivera.

“I’m here to cel­e­brate,” Ms. Mark-Viver­ito said. “This is a day of unity and cel­e­bra­tion.”

As for those who chose to stay away be­cause of Mr. Lopez Rivera, she said “that’s their de­ci­sion.”

The con­tro­versy re­sulted in both in­di­vid­u­als and cor­po­ra­tions, in­clud­ing AT&T and Jet-Blue, with­draw­ing from the pa­rade in protest of the de­ci­sion to honor the 74-year-old former mem­ber of the mil­i­tant Puerto Ri­can na­tion­al­ist group Armed Forces of Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion, or FALN.

New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo and sev­eral po­lice and fire de­part­ment groups also said they would not at­tend.

And Mr. Lopez Rivera said last week he would not ac­cept the ti­tle of “Na­tional Free­dom Hero” but would in­stead join the pa­rade as a reg­u­lar ci­ti­zen, partly be­cause the fo­cus was too much on him and not enough on the plight of Puerto Rico.

Most of the tens of thou­sands of rev­el­ers turned out sim­ply to cel­e­brate Puerto Rico, hap­pily salsa danc­ing and wav­ing Puerto Ri­can flags. Some wrapped their bod­ies in it, while oth­ers adorned their heads with the red, white and blue col­ors.

“We don’t care that he is here,” said Rosa Rosario, a 68-yearold New Yorker.

“I don’t sup­port a po­lit­i­cal move­ment,” she said, ex­plain­ing that she was at the pa­rade to sup­port “my home­town, Hormigueros,” a mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the west­ern re­gion of the is­land.

The pa­rade has of­ten been a venue to show­case the com­pli­cated his­tory of the U.S. ter­ri­tory, now mired in a re­ces­sion. This year it came on the same day Puerto Ri­cans vote among three choices: in­de­pen­dence, state­hood or their cur­rent ter­ri­to­rial sta­tus.

Decades ago FALN claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for more than 100 bomb­ings in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, in­clud­ing a lunchtime blast in 1975 that killed four peo­ple at New York’s his­toric Fraunces Tav­ern. Mr. Lopez Rivera was con­victed of sedi­tious con­spir­acy, though he was never charged with any spe­cific bomb­ings and has de­nied par­tic­i­pat­ing in at­tacks that in­jured any­one. He was re­leased last month fol­low­ing the com­mu­ta­tion of his sen­tence by then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Mayor Bill de Bla­sio, who for weeks de­fended his own de­ci­sion to march, said last week that he was un­com­fort­able with the idea of hon­or­ing Mr. Lopez Rivera all along. He showed up for the march, mak­ing no com­ments but shak­ing hands with peo­ple across po­lice bar­ri­cades.

New York held its first Puerto Ri­can pa­rade in 1958, when it was barely le­gal to dis­play the Puerto Ri­can flag on the is­land and Puerto Ri­cans on the main­land faced harsh dis­crim­i­na­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TOGRAPHS

Those en­joy­ing New York’s Puerto Ri­can Day Pa­rade were di­vided on a float bear­ing a con­tro­ver­sial “Na­tional Free­dom Hero.”

Os­car Lopez Rivera was cheered and booed by pa­rade­go­ers Sun­day in New York, with some de­cry­ing his par­tic­i­pa­tion in 1970s bomb­ings that led to his jail sen­tence of 35 years.

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