May 26 Sponsors have been fleeing next month's
National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City since
organizers decided to honor an activist recently freed after
more than three decades in prison for ties to a nationalist
group that carried out more than 100 bombings in the 1970s and
Oscar Lopez Rivera, 74, was convicted in 1981 of numerous
charges, along with other members of the Armed Forces of
National Liberation (FALN), who sought to secure Puerto Rican
independence from the United States.
Rivera's sentence was commuted by former President Barack
Obama, and the prisoner was freed this month. He is to be
honored as "National Freedom Hero" at the June 11 parade, which
makes its way up Fifth Avenue and draws millions of onlookers.
However, some view Rivera as a terrorist. Several sponsors
this week pulled financial support for the parade.
"It became clear that the debate about this year's parade
was dividing the community," JetBlue Airways Corp said
in a statement on Monday. "Out of respect for the many different
points of view, we will be redirecting our funds."
JetBlue, like some others who have pulled their support, did
not specifically cite Rivera as the reason for its exit.
Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications Inc and
telecommunications company AT&T Inc also backed away.
Univision, which had three radio and television stations
sponsoring the event, said it would still provide news coverage
of the parade and it and the other sponsors said they would
donate funds for student scholarships.
The New York Daily News and the New York City Patrolmen's
Benevolent Association, New York's largest police union, have
been more direct in their criticisms of organizers.
The newspaper said on Wednesday it was pulling its
sponsorship, while the police union said in a statement last
week that this year's parade honors a "remorseless terrorist"
and its members will not participate.
The board of the parade said on Tuesday it was "saddened and
disappointed" by the decision of sponsors pulling out from the
parade, but added it was committed to representing a broad
number of Puerto Rican voices.
In 1981, Rivera was sentenced to 55 years in prison for
charges including seditious conspiracy. An additional 15 years
were added to his sentence in 1988 after law enforcement foiled
a plot to break him out of prison.
Rivera rejected clemency from former President Bill Clinton
in 1999 because it was not extended to another imprisoned FALN
After his sentence was commuted by Obama, Rivera spent the
final months of his incarceration in Puerto Rico. He was
previously held in Indiana. He was freed earlier this month and
returned to Chicago to a hero's welcome.
(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by David