New York

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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

Potboiler: Goya Foods Quits NY Puerto Rican Parade

A Goya float in a previous National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. /National Puerto Rican Day Parade

The giant Latino company Goya Foods has left some in the Puerto Rican community stewing after it pulled its 59-year sponsorship of New York City’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade, apparently over the parade’s honoring of Oscar López Rivera, officially freed today after serving 35 yeas in federal prison for alleged ties to terrorism.

Goya denied the connection, saying it was a business decision. “We make business decisions all the time,” spokesman Rafael Toro told the New York Daily News.

Oscar López Rivera

Press reports indicate, however, it’s all about Oscar, who parade organizers named “National Freedom Hero” earlier this month.

López Rivera, whom federal prosectors alleged was the bomb-making expert in the Puerto Rican pro-nationalist FALN group, is expected to lead the parade down Fifth Avenue. One of the FALN’s more infamous acts was the bombing of New York’s Fraunces Tavern, which left four dead and injured dozens of others.

Steaming over Goya

Goya’s move surprised parade organizers, who were left steaming. “We are very disappointed at Goya for pulling out of our parade via a phone call and with no rationale other than ‘it was a business decision,’ ” the parade board said in a statement, according to the Daily News.

But, really, it was the parade organizers who politicized the parade by choosing López Rivera, resulting from the Puerto Rican community’s desire to whitewash López Rivera’s notorious past.

Most parade honorees have been celebrities or entertainers – Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernández was named this year’s Athlete of the Year and salsa star Gilberto Santarosa is the Grand Marshall.

Why would a major food company like Goya give a can of beans about an alleged terrorist enough to tie its well-established brand to his name? That’s loco.

“Which headline would you prefer as a corporate global giant in today’s climate: ‘Goya ends PR parade sponsorship after 60 years’ or ‘Goya funds celebration honoring convicted terrorist’ … #SpinGame,” writes Christina Hernández, community organizer and social media marketing specialist, in answer to a Facebook post. 

Lay Low

She cautioned community activists to lay low. “Let it pass and then renegotiate for next year. Last thing you want to do is raise the heat so much that other sponsors follow suit.”

Others defended Goya’s right to pick its sponsorships. “It’s their money they should have the right to decide how its allocated without explanations !!!” said Carlos Nazario of Acacia Network.

Some others have a beef to pick with Goya. “When I used to work at Hispanic magazines I visited their offices in NJ so many times I lost count and they never supported Hispanic magazines,” wrote Samí Haiman-Marrero, also a marketer. “And that’s OK…they spend their money however they wish, and I spend my money on other brands. No tiene que ser GOYA para ser bueno! LOL,” she said playing off Goya’s  slogan, “Si es Goya tiene que ser bueno!” If it’s Goya it has to be good.

Goya Foods Links to Puerto Rican Community

Severing its ties with New York’s Puerto Rican parade doesn’t necessarily mean Goya is cutting its links with the Puerto Rican community, which are deep. Company founders Prudencio and Carolina Unanue first migrated to Puerto Rico after leaving Spain in the 1930s before relocating permanently to New York.

Goya products – from olive oil and tomato sauce to beans and sazón – could be found in New York City bodegas patronized by the Puerto Rican community long before landing on mainstream supermarket shelves. The company still has a Puerto Rico manufacturing and distribution plant.

Goya has paid tribute to Puerto Rico’s Borinqueneer soldiers and beloved baseball player the late Roberto Clemente. It has donated tens of thousands of pounds of food in the name of Puerto Rican artists Marc Anthony and Cheyenne. It has donated foods here in Central Florida, home to Florida’s largest concentration of Puerto Ricans.

Meanwhile, controversy is not new to the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Inc., which has generated questions in the past over its alleged mishandling of funds and sponsors.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor