CHICAGO -- When the 39th Annual Puerto Rican Parade made its way though the heart of Humboldt Park Saturday afternoon, Oscar López Rivera walked front and center. Rivera is also the center of controversy over his involvement with a group that was linked to bombings as it fought for Puerto Rican independence.
The parade stepped off Saturday afternoon at the intersection of Western and Division with the usual flapping flags, blaring bands and cheering crowds.
"This day is about the people, the culture, everything,” said one parade attendee, Luis Ramirez. “You can’t get no better than this.”
But the parade's 74-year-old Grand Marshall, Oscar López Rivera, was greeted with both cheers and boos. Rivera was a former member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, which was linked to bombing attacks as it fought for Puerto Rican independence. In 1977, the FALN set off a bomb on the fifth floor of the Cook County building near the mayor and board president's offices. No one was hurt.
Rivera is viewed as a freedom fighter by many and a terrorist by others. Larry Ligas from the group Logan Square Concerned Citizens says Lopez used violence to achieve political objectives and should not be celebrated.
"They have blood on their hands and they are not heroes,” Ligas said.
Rivera was sentenced to 55 years in prison for “seditious conspiracy,” but his sentence was commuted by former president Barack Obama. Some view him as a terrorist for his actions.
"To bring a terrorist and glorify him on a day that we celebrate our culture? What is going on here?" said Humboldt Park resident Ector Concepcion. "He doesn’t represent the Puerto Rican community,”
"Let them say whatever they want to say," Rivera said of his critics. "That’s not me."
Rivera said he heard mostly cheering as he passed, and said his message is unity and pride for Puerto Rico, what the parade is all about.
“I’ve enjoyed life and I’ve struggled. I’ve done a lot of work, and there’s a lot of remembrances from this community," Rivera said. "Some of the things that are here, I helped make possible. So I hope this world see this place and sees it for what it is – a great place."
Rivera is only in Chicago for a few days, but he is scheduled to return in august when Lin Manuel Miranda will honor him by reprising the role of another revolutionary political figure: Hamilton.