On Sunday, June 11th, the Big Apple will mark the 60th edition of the annual Puerto Rican Day parade. It’s always a huge event which brings out throngs of tourists and celebrants, but this year they will be featuring a very special guest of honor. Convicted terrorist and long time jail inmate Oscar Lopez Rivera, who had his sentence commuted by Barack Obama before leaving office, will be prominently featured in honor of his lifetime of work on behalf of Puerto Rico. I’m not sure precisely which rabbit hole we’ve fallen down now, but let’s take a look at the details. (Associated Press)
Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Puerto Rican nationalist who spent more than three decades behind bars for his role in a violent struggle for independence from the U.S., will be celebrated as a hero upon his early release Wednesday and honored next month in New York City’s massive Puerto Rican Day parade.
“We have to thank him for giving his life for our island,” said Nelson Cortes, a 45-year-old waiter who supports Puerto Rican independence. “It’s exactly what we need right now.”
But Lopez Rivera’s story isn’t that simple: He was a member of the leftist group FALN that claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings across New York, Chicago, Washington and Puerto Rico in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Let’s not act completely stunned by this announcement. It’s not as if there haven’t been other communities treating Lopez Rivera like something other than the FALN terrorist he is. We learned earlier this year that Chicago had decided to name a street after him and he is still revered there by some community members.
But let’s also keep in mind precisely who we’re talking about here. Back in January, Ed Morrissey described the decision to commute his sentence as a choice which should permanently stain Barack Obama’s legacy. There was never any real question of the FALN leader’s guilt, but rather a debate over whether he was directly responsible for any of the deaths or injuries caused by the students in his bomb-making classes. That’s a topic which was previously brought up by Matthew Hennessey of the New York Daily News, who chided President Obama over the idea of clemency for Lopez Rivera.
López Rivera’s supporters claim he is a political prisoner, in jail for his beliefs rather than his actions. They say there is no evidence that he personally killed anyone — which could also be plausibly said of Osama bin Laden and Al Capone.
Yes. We seem to be able to hold organized crime leaders accountable for the actions of their henchmen in other instances, so why not with this guy? But still, during the parade he will be honored with the title, “Procer de la Libertad” (National Freedom Hero). That came as puzzling news to some in the community, such as 70 year old Diane Berger Ettenson. Her husband, Alex Berger, died in 1975 at the Fraunces Tavern when it was blown up by one of the FALN bombs. She’s quoted in the Daily News as wondering, “what I am missing, why he has all this support.”
That’s a good question, Ms. Ettenson. Perhaps if you ask it a few more times in a bit louder voice you can get an answer for the rest of us.