NEW YORK (FOX5NY) - Controversy is engulfing this year's National Puerto Rican Day Parade, which takes over Fifth Avenue on Sunday, June 11. At the core is whether a militant being honored by the parade is a freedom fighter or an accomplice to terrorism. A growing list of sponsors are dropping support for the parade because of the issue.
The New York parade is one of the largest in the United States. It usually draws about 2 million spectators and participants. This year's committee decided to give Oscar Lopez Rivera the new title of "national freedom hero."
Police Commissioner James O'Neill said he will not be marching because Lopez Rivera, who was just released from federal custody after almost 36 years, was involved with the FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist group, in the 1970s. The group claimed responsibility for many bombings in the United States.
The commissioner isn't the only one who won't be participating. The NYPD's Hispanic Society said it cannot participate. Major corporate sponsor Goya will not be involved. JetBlue and the New York Yankees pulled support. And on Tuesday, AT&T announced it was withdrawing its sponsorship from the parade. Coco Cola and The Daily News have also pulled out of the parade.
A rally of supporters for Lopez Rivera on Monday included union leaders and members and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who said that Lopez Rivera's critics are wrong on the facts.
FALN was responsible for a terror campaign of bombings in the 1970s and 1980s. He was convicted on charges of running guns and bomb-making materials. But his supporters say he was fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico from the U.S. and was a political prisoner.
Joseph Connor also won't be attending the parade. He was just 9 when a bomb killed his father and three others at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan. Connor told the New York Times his father's life is valued less than political agendas.
FALN claimed responsibility for Fraunces Tavern bombing, but no one has ever been charged.