National Puerto Rican Day Parade Rolls On Despite Oscar López Rivera

Oscar López Rivera “floats” down Fifth Avenue in New York’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2017. / screenshot

Oscar López Rivera waved a Puerto Rican flag and gestured thumbs-up as he participated in Sunday’s 60th Annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade down New York’s Fifth Avenue in what seemed an anticlimactic appearance of the ex-felon and alleged terrorist.

Surrounded by a small army of protectors, López did not so much walk as “float” above the parade in a convoy wearing a T-shirt with the lone-star symbol of the Puerto Rican flag in the black and white colors of the island’s long defunct nationalist party. Orlando’s WRDQ-Channel 27 transmitted the entire four-hour parade live. López appeared on screen about 45 minutes into the parade.

It was a split-screen moment for Puerto Ricans as the parade was held the same day as the island’s electorate went to the polls to vote in a plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s political status, an election that the island’s pro-independence and pro-commonwealth parties were expected to boycott or ignore. López is pro-independence.

Thinner Crowd

The controversy over López’s participation hadn’t died down by parade time, as indicated by thinner crowds, according to news reports. Plus, some tweets in real time took the parade to task.

“No official honor, but FALN terrorist gets a hero’s float at ,” wrote Jorge Bonilla of Central Florida, who has written on the subject for conservative media.

“Terrorist rides a float in where the he led murdered 5 and wounded scores incl 4 officers,” wrote Tim Sumner, identified as co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America (2004) and a retired US Army sergeant first class.

Positive Response

The parade also generated an overwhelming positive response on Twitter with posts such as “ Attending in spirit, celebrating my heritage, keeping in mind the realities of the island ,” by Jen RLastname.

“Proud to be marching in the ,” wrote Evelyn Hernández. 

There’s no doubt, however, that parade coverage was marked by López’s participation, overshadowing the cultural and artistic celebration among the Puerto Rican diaspora, including artists, performers, elected officials, beauty queens, sororities and fraternities. The over 5 million population of Puerto Ricans residing in the U.S. is larger than the island’s population of 3.4 million.

Pivot

During a parade weekend event, New York City Council President Melissa Mark Viverito, a Puerto Rican who campaigned for López’s release from federal prison for serving 35 years for seditious conspiracy and who pushed to make him the parade’s “National Honoree,” pivoted, stating that parade organizers were returning the parade to its roots by highlighting issues of concern to Puerto Ricans, including the debt crisis.

It’s clear, however, that Mark Viverito, who was involved in taking over the parade organization several years ago, and others overplayed their hand by misinterpreting and conflating support for López’s release from prison, pushed by Puerto Ricans of all political stripes, with support for his alleged terrorist-related activities.

The move prompted several sponsors, including Goya Foods, a parade backer since its inception in 1957, to  pull support, bruising the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Inc. Even New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, who is running for re-election in a city where Puerto Ricans are the second largest Latino population, behind Dominicans, threatened not to march if López’s role weren’t diminished, according to reports in New York City  media.

End to Controversy

Under pressure, López later said he would participate in the parade but not be its national honoree, thus he did not lead it down Fifth Avenue.

But it’s clear – or ought to be – that after this year’s debacle, the 61st National Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2018 should carefully skirt controversy.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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