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  • Puerto Rican Oscar Lopez Rivera (C) carries a national flag as he meets with supporters after being released from house arrest in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

    Puerto Rican Oscar Lopez Rivera (C) carries a national flag as he meets with supporters after being released from house arrest in San Juan, Puerto Rico. | Photo: Reuters

The march's organizers say it will be "a great honor" to march with the former political prisoner and hero of the Puerto Rican independence movement.

This coming June 11th the recently freed Puerto Rican political prisoner and national liberation fighter, Oscar Lopez Rivera, will be joining tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to march in New York City's 60th annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade, in an affirmation of Puerto Rican pride and nationality, local media reported Monday.

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The group A Call to Action on Puerto Rico said that it will be “a great honor to parade together with the national hero Oscar Lopez Rivera,” adding that Rivera is “an example of the iron character, the uprightness and the indominability of our national spirit. A nation that has resisted since 1898, which was the year of the military invasion, the attempts of assimilation and colonial domination of the United States.”

“On the day of the Puerto Rican flag, the Puerto Rican diaspora will be in the streets together with Oscar Lopez Rivera in order to celebrate our victories as a people who work, fight and resist,” the representative said according to Puerto Rican newspaper Metro.

The decision of the parade organizers to honor the Puerto Rican independence fighter and former political prisoner  drew the ire of law enforcement officials and corporate sponsors of the annual event, leading many to withdraw their sponsorship.

Lopez Rivera, who is considered a hero of the movement to free Puerto Rico from the economic and political controls imposed by its status as a U.S. territory, has often been called a terrorist by his opponents.

Lopez Rivera was a famous leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), which advocated for armed struggle against the denial of national self-determination under U.S. rule. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison despite not being directly involved in any acts of violence. An additional 15 years were added to his sentence for conspiring to escape from prison, and by the time former U.S. President Barrack Obama commuted his sentence in 2017, he had served over 35 years behind bars, 12 of those in solitary confinement.

The organizers of the annual march challenge the designation of Lopez Rivera as a "terrorist," and instead call out the "terrorism" of the system that he fought.

“To those who argue that they are condemning terrorism: where is your condemnation to the dictatorial rule imposed by Washington and Wall Street on our country? When will you condemn the terrorism of the collapsing colonial government in Puerto Rico?” the representative added. “When will they condemn the terrorism that closes schools, that attacks the University of Puerto Rico, repeats labor rights, and sells public hospitals? Where is the condemnation of the terrorism of the colonial government that pursues, kidnaps, manufactures cases, and violates the constitutional rights of the people who fight and resist such outrages?”

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Following the release of Lopez Rivera, after President Obama commuted his sentence, Puerto Rico has experienced an upsurge in the Puerto Rican independence movement, and new waves of protests against ongoing austerity measures mandated by the Washington imposed Fiscal Control Board. Included in a three-year US$450 million budget cut proposed by the board are cuts to public education, public health care, and housing. Cuts to public education in particular have been met with widespread student strikes.

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898, when the United States invaded the island during the Spanish-American war and appropriated it through the Treaty of Paris. The invasion was followed by a period of military rule. Although natural-born Puerto Ricans are given the status of U.S. citizens, Puerto Rico is considered to be a territory rather than a state, and is not afforded the same level of political autonomy as states, nor is given a vote in Congress.

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