More corporate sponsors withdrew their support from the 2017 Puerto Rican Day Parade on Tuesday. AT&T and Coca-Cola joined the ranks of JetBlue, the New York Yankees, and Goya Foods, after parade organizers announced their decision to honor a controversial figure in the militant movement for Puerto Rican independence from the United States.
Oscar López Rivera, 74, served 35 years in prison for his involvement in the separatist FALN group, which was implicated in more than 100 bombings including the 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing that killed four people in Downtown Manhattan. Another bombing, on New Year's Eve 1982, injured three police officers at NYPD headquarters. President Barack Obama commuted Rivera's sentence in January; his house arrest in Puerto Rico reportedly concluded on May 17th.
The AP reports that Rivera was convicted of transporting weapons with intent to kill or injure, but was not charged with carrying out bombings himself. Last week, Rivera told the NY Times that, "I do not have blood on my hands, and that's why I cannot be a terrorist." In the same interview, he said that colonized peoples have the right to use "force" in the name of independence.
FALN is an acronym for Armed Forces of National Liberation in Spanish.
"While we are saddened and disappointed by certain sponsors pulling out of our Parade, we respect their views and decision to do so," organizers said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Equally, we respect our Parade's mission and commitment to inclusiveness, and the responsibility of representing the broadest possible blend voices that make up the Puerto Rican community."
"While we cannot predict whether other sponsors and/or organizations might choose not to join us on Fifth Avenue this year, we expect they will do so with the same level of responsibility and professionalism as JetBlue and the Yankees," they added. "This community deserves no less."
Both JetBlue and the Yankees stated this week that they would continue to sponsor scholarships for Puerto Rican students. Coca-Cola is also redirecting its support to the parade's affiliated scholarship program. "This year, we will honor our commitment to provide financial support to advance the educational program and scholarships benefiting students in New York and Puerto Rico but have decided not to march in the Parade," a spokeswoman said.
AT&T did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said Monday that he would not march in the parade, describing Rivera as a "terrorist." Police organizations including the Hispanic Society and New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association have also withdrawn their support.
At an unrelated press conference in the Bronx Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio reiterated his intention to participate in the parade, alongside City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is herself Puerto Rican and a longtime supporter of Rivera.
"I believe this parade is a very, very important part of the life of our city," the de Blasio said. "The parade committee made a choice this year on someone to honor, [and] that does not change the basic nature of the parade. Whether you agree with that choice or not, it is still the Puerto Rican parade, and my point is that I will be there to honor the Puerto Rican people. I intend on marching, it’s as simple as that."
Parade organizers issued a lengthy statement on their decision to honor Rivera earlier this month, citing the importance of honoring "the diverse views and voices of our community."
"The intention of integrating López Rivera into the Parade is meant to honor the commitment and hard work of thousands of people, Puerto Rican and non-, whose efforts contributed to his sentence commutation," they added.
Mark-Viverito rallied Monday in support of Rivera, alongside more than a dozen local union chapters and nonprofits, including LatinoJustice. Juan Cartagena, president of LatinoJustice, issued a statement this week citing the push to commute the "disproportionate criminal sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera."
Parade organizers did not immediately comment on how the loss of sponsorship may impact the finances of the parade, which is scheduled for June 11th.