What to Know
- The organizers of the upcoming June 11 Puerto Rican Day Parade are continuing to face backlash for plans to honor Oscar Lopez Rivera
- Lopez Rivera is the co-founder of paramilitary group FALN, which set off more than 120 bombs in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s
- Still, he's beloved by thousands who see him as a political prisoner, jailed for seeking independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory
A retired New York City detective who lost an eye and most of his hearing in a bombing set off by a militant group in 1982 says he's sickened by the idea that the group's founder is being celebrated at the Puerto Rican Day Parade next month.
"He's not a hero to my family and I have Puerto Rican relatives, they aren't dancing in the street. They are disgusted," said Anthony Seft.
Seft was referring to the controversial decision by parade organizers to honor Oscar Lopez Rivera, the 74-year-old co-founder of The Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the FALN set off more than 120 bombs in the United States, including five on New Year's Eve in 1982 in New York City. That day, a bomb exploded in Seft's face; he lost an eye and hearing, and ended up needing facial and hip reconstruction surgery.
"It's sad that we are putting the man in the parade," said Seft, who retired from the NYPD in 2008 after serving 36 years. "In the great history of Puerto Rico in our city, and they are going to be marching with him. And embracing him as a hero. It's not flying with a lot of people."
Coca-Cola, AT&T and JetBlue became the latest sponsors to skip the June 11 Puerto Rican Day parade along Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, which draws about 1 million people annually. New York has the largest Puerto Rican community off the island. Goya Foods already dropped out but said it was a business decision.
The Yankees also said they wouldn't participate this year but would continue to fund scholarships. The team has an afternoon home game the day of the parade.
Hispanic societies in both the FDNY and the NYPD have said they would not be sending delegations this year, and Police Commissioner James O'Neill said he wouldn't march.
Lopez Rivera served decades in prison for his involvement in FALN. During the 1970s and 1980s, FALN claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in New York, Chicago, Washington and Puerto Rico, including a blast that killed four people at New York's historic Fraunces Tavern in 1975.
Lopez Rivera wasn't convicted in any of the bombings, but a former FALN member testified that he instructed members on how to make bombs, detonators and silencers. While serving his sentence, Lopez Rivera was convicted of hatching a plot to escape from prison using explosives and a helicopter.
Lopez Rivera served 35 years until his sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama.
The fact that he was being celebrated in the very city where Seft was injured in an FALN bombing, the retired detective Seft said, "makes me sick to my stomach."
"How could you recognize a man who was responsible for people losing their limbs and dying?" said Seft.
Parade organizers stand by their decision to honor Lopez Rivera as "Procer de la Libertad" — National Freedom Hero. He has thousands of supporters who see him as a political prisoner, jailed for seeking independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.
"We understand that others may not be able to be with us," the board of directors of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade said in a statement Monday. "However, we will continue to represent all voices, with an aim to spark dialogue and find common ground, so that we can help advance our community and build cultural legacy."
Mayor Bill de Blasio is still marching, and more than 30 city lawmakers, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born in Puerto Rico, said they supported the decision to honor Lopez Rivera.
"Oscar's presence will lift people's spirits and bring attention to the challenges that must be immediately addressed on the island," they said.
Lopez Rivera was released last week from house arrest in Puerto Rico, where he'd been since his sentence was commuted in January.
(Disclosure: NBC 4 New York and Telemundo 47 have been sponsors of the Puerto Rican Day parade.)