Mayor: Oscar Lopez Rivera steps away from Puerto Rican Day Parade

- Amid mounting controversy, Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Puerto Rican nationalist and ex-con, has agreed to step aside from "any formal role" in this year's National Puerto Rican Day Parade, according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"The parade has always been about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans, not any one participant. It is a celebration of a culture and community at the center of what makes New York City great," de Blasio said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the parade and the plight of Puerto Rico have been overshadowed by needless controversy.

Originally, parade organizers had given Lopez Rivera the new title of "national freedom hero" and planned to honor him at the parade. That prompted some people to protest, some officials to boycott the parade, and many sponsors to drop support because of Lopez Rivera's controversial past.

Lopez Rivera, who was just released from federal custody after almost 36 years, was a leader of FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist group that claimed responsibility for many bombings in the United States in the 1970s.

A recent rally of supporters for Lopez Rivera included union leaders and members and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who said that Lopez Rivera's critics are wrong on the facts.

Lopez Rivera was convicted on charges of running guns and bomb-making materials. He was never charged in any of the bombings that FALN claimed. His supporters say he was fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States and was a political prisoner.

In his final days in the White House, President Barack Obama commuted Oscar Lopez's sentence.

"Puerto Rico and its 3.5 million people, many of whom are family and loved ones of New Yorkers, are in the midst of an economic collapse and health care crisis that threatens their future," de Blasio said. "Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico deserve help from Washington and they are not receiving it. This should be our singular focus when it comes to Puerto Rico and our city's parade."

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