When multinational corporations and the police heard recently-freed Puerto Rican revolutionary Oscar Lopez Rivera was to be honored at New York City's 60th annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade, a number of them pulled out.
But the former political prisoner is unfazed, saying he will march this Sunday as a “humble Puerto Rican.”
“I do not need the honor, definitely not. I will march in the parade as a very humble Puerto Rican. That’s who I am. I love ... participating in the parade,” he told Democracy Now! in an interview Thursday. “But what I will detest very, very much is corporations imposing their values or their ideals on a committee that has every power to decide for the Puerto Rican community what its parade should be.”
The boycott campaign against Lopez Rivera’s honoring and participation was organized by a conservative group funded by donors that are close to both U.S. President Donald Trump and right-wing media outlet Breitbart News.
Law enforcement from the New York police and fire departments, the Yankees baseball team and multinational corporations and other big-money entities such as Coca-Cola and New Jersey-based Latin American food producer Goya Foods, pulled their sponsorship of the event last month. Describing Lopez Rivera as a “convicted felon,” the various establishments view the freedom fighter as a “terrorist.”
When asked by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman about whether he has declined the Parade’s honoring of him as its first “National Freedom Hero," Lopez Rivera responded, “It would divide people. There is no reason for that … I think the Puerto Rican people should be honored … And that’s, for me, what matters the most. And I’ll be marching in the parade.”
Not only has Lopez Rivera’s release led to an upsurge in interest in the Puerto Rican independence movement, ironically, the attempts by the police, baseball team and multinational corporations to silence his voice has led to more people wanting to hear what the iconic leader has to say. Interest in the parade — which already drew approximately 2 million participants and spectators every year — has also shot up.
“I think it’s galvanizing many more people to show up for the parade. I mean, it’s one of these things that everyone recognizes, that ‘Who are the corporations to tell us who to recognize and who to honor?’" Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice, told Democracy Now!.
The parade takes place the same day Puerto Rico will hold a referendum on its political future and amid a debt crisis and bankruptcy process.
Lopez Rivera remains hopeful for the future of his country.
“I think that Puerto Rico should be seen as a place where decolonization can take place. I see Puerto Rico at a moment when the United States government has finally admitted the Puerto Rico is a colony. So, for us, it’s not the problem that we had before. For us, decolonization is possible,” he declared.
Lopez Rivera was arrested in 1981 by the FBI and charged with “seditious conspiracy" for being a militant, anti-colonial fighter.
During his trial, Lopez Rivera and other members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation told the court their actions were part of an anti-colonial war against the U.S., declaring themselves prisoners of war and requesting that their cases be handed over to an international court.
The U.S. did not recognize Lopez Rivera's demand and sentenced him to 55 years in prison. After an alleged attempt to escape, the sentence was increased to 70 years in prison, 12 of which he spent in solitary confinement.
Lopez Rivera was freed last month after serving 36 years in jail after former President Barack Obama commuted his sentence earlier this year.