What to Know
- Oscar Lopez was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 1981 after he was found guilty of seditious conspiracy
- Lopez was considered a top leader of FALN, an ultranationalist Puerto Rican group that claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings
- President Barack Obama commuted his sentence in January
The Yankees and the FDNY have become the latest high-profile organizations to drop out of the Puerto Rican Day Parade after a controversial decision by parade organizers to honor freed militant Oscar Lopez Rivera.
Meanwhile, sponsors AT&T and JetBlue have announced they're skipping the June 11 parade, which draws about 1 million people annually.
The FDNY officers' union and the FDNY Hispanic Society said Tuesday they'd be boycotting the parade in protest of the "outrageous decision to honor a convicted felon in the very city where the attacks took place," referring to Rivera, who once embraced armed resistance to U.S. rule of Puerto Rico.
The NYPD's Hispanic Society, which in the past has sent a few hundred officers to the parade, similarly announced last week that it wouldn't participate this year. Some of those permanently maimed in FALN bombings were police officers.
"We will take a stance in support of the members of service who were seriously injured and with the families of the innocent people who lost their lives," society president Jenimarie Garcia-Cruz said in a statement.
The Yankees baseball organization didn't elaborate on its decision to not participate in the parade. Instead, a spokeswoman said in a statement that the Yankees have for years supported a scholarship program that recognizes students selected by the parade organizers, and that the organization will continue to provide direct financial support to those students.
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill, as well as the Rafael Ramos foundation, a nonprofit named for a slain officer that raises awareness of the danger of being in law enforcement, are also skipping the parade.
Salsa star Willie Colon has also criticized the parade organizers' decision but stopped short of saying he'd boycott it.
The parade organizers said in a statement Tuesday they were "saddened and disappointed" by some sponsors' decision to pull out.
"We respect their views and decision to do so. 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," the statement said. "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. This community deserves no less."
Rivera served decades in prison for his involvement in The Armed Forces of National Liberation, or 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.
Dallas-based AT&T Inc. said it celebrates Puerto Ricans and "their rich heritage" but would be withdrawing support from the parade this year.
JetBlue said the debate was dividing the community and it would instead redirect funds to support student scholarships.
"We did not make this decision lightly and hope all sides will come together to engage in a dialogue about the parade's role in unifying the community at a time when Puerto Rico needs it most," New York-based JetBlue Airways Corp. said in a statement.
Goya Foods, which has sponsored every parade since it began in 1958, has said that it wouldn't do so this year, but called it a business decision.
The 74-year-old Lopez Rivera has thousands of supporters who see him as a political prisoner, jailed for seeking independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.
The board of directors of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade released a statement Monday defending their decision to name Lopez Rivera as "Procer de la Libertad" - National Freedom Hero - for the June 11 parade.
"We understand that others may not be able to be with us," the statement said. "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."
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born in Puerto Rico, and more than 30 other lawmakers sent a letter to the parade's board Monday commending the decision to honor Lopez Rivera.
"As countless families continue to struggle in Puerto Rico's current fiscal crisis, Oscar is a reminder of the hope that has always anchored the Island - and that's why we fully stand behind your efforts," the letter said.
Lopez Rivera was released last week from house arrest in Puerto Rico, where he'd been since his sentence was commuted in January. He got a hero's welcome and then traveled to Chicago, where a parade was thrown in his honor and a street sign bearing his name was unveiled.
Detectives' Endowment Association President Michael Palladino criticized Mark-Viverito for traveling to Puerto Rico for Lopez Rivera's release. A spokeswoman for Viverito confirmed that she brought her security detail for her trip — a decision that has drawn criticism.
"Celebrating the release of a man involved in acts of terror in our city and against this country is a violation of her oath," Palladino said.
"Traveling to Puerto Rico with a security detail on the taxpayers' time and dime is questionable since Rivera's release can't possibly be explained as 'city business,'" he said, adding that Mark-Viverito's spokeswoman said she paid for her own travel to the island last week.
Mark-Viverito stood firm in her support of Lopez Rivera, saying Tuesday, "He's a free man today. He's being celebrated in his community. And he's been linked to no act of violence in New York City. And I think the people who say that are speaking lies."
Melissa Russo contributed to this report.
(Disclosure: NBC 4 New York and Telemundo 47 have been sponsors of the Puerto Rican Day parade.)