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Freed Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera Joins Tens of Thousands at NYC Puerto Rican Day Parade

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Tens of thousands took part in Sunday’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade here in New York. Marchers at the parade included Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned for about 35 years. This year’s organizers chose to honor López Rivera as the parade’s first “National Freedom Hero.” But after a boycott campaign was organized by a right-wing conservative group funded by donors close to both President Trump and to Breitbart News, Oscar López Rivera announced he would march not as an official honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and a grandfather. Democracy Now!’s Juan González was at the parade on Sunday with videographer Nicole Salazar.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn right now to Sunday’s Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York. Marchers at the parade included Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned for 35 years. This year’s organizers chose to organize López Rivera as the parade’s—to honor him as the parade’s first “National Freedom Hero.” But after a boycott campaign that was organized by a right-wing conservative group funded by donors close to both President Trump and to Breitbart News, Oscar López Rivera announced he would march not as an official honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and a grandfather. Well, Juan, you were at the parade on Sunday.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re here at the corner of 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, getting ready for the start of the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. Thousands of people are here to celebrate the culture and the history of Puerto Rico. There are others also protesting.

MARCHERS: Puerto Rico! Not for sale!

CARLENE PINTO: My name is Carlene Pinto, and I work with the New York Immigration Coalition. Our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico are in crisis. They’re being deeply impacted by migration, by congressional inaction, and essentially by all of the debt that, essentially, the people are now responsible for, that is to no fault of their own. Last year, half a million people migrated inland. And we really have to start talking about how we create infrastructures for Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico.

MARCHERS: ¡Oscar Querido, el pueblo está contigo! ¡Oscar Querido, el pueblo está contigo!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This is an especially controversial parade because of all of the companies that have boycotted the parade at the last moment, and some of the public officials, because the parade has decided to honor Oscar López Rivera, the Puerto Rican activist and former leader of the FALN, who was freed from prison after 35 years in prison by a commutation by President Obama. So many of these companies have boycotted the parade. But in the Latino and the Puerto Rican community, many folks are saying that corporate America does not get to determine who are the freedom fighters and the heroes of any community. And so, most, if not all, of the organizations of the Puerto Rican community who annually participate in the parade have continued to participate, with the exception of a few—the Hispanic Society of the Police Department, the Hispanic Society of the Fire Department. But all the others have agreed to participate as they always do in the parade to stand up for the history, the culture and the contributions of the Puerto Rican community to American life.

MARCHERS: ¡Olé, Olé, Olé, Oscar, Oscar! ¡Olé, Olé, Olé, Oscar, Oscar!

GIOVANNI ORTIZ: My name is Giovanni Ortiz. I represent the organization Positive Workforce. We are a hard-working community organization. We’re black and Hispanics. Today it’s Oscar López. He is going to be marching in our parade today.

DANNY CAMACHO: Hi. My name is Danny Camacho. I’m with the Hispanic Society of New York City Transit. We’re here to celebrate Puerto Rican pride. We try not to get political. We’re solely interested in expressing the Puerto Rican presence. I would say, at transit, there are about 6,000 Hispanics in total. As far as the Puerto Ricans are concerned, it’s a percentage of that, probably about 50 percent.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And on the island of Puerto Rico, there is a referendum being conducted by the pro-statehood government of Puerto Rico, a plebiscite that has itself created much controversy because all the other major political parties on the island have boycotted it and have insisted that now is not the time to have a beauty contest, in essence, on Puerto Rico’s status, given the enormous economic crisis that is confronting the island of Puerto Rico—close to 200 schools about to be closed this coming school year, massive austerity cuts, increases in electricity rates. Massive poverty continues to dog the island. They’re saying the political leaders should be dealing with this economic crisis, not having a costly referendum where only one party is participating.

GABRIEL RIVERA: My name is Gabriel Rivera. I’m here with the United Federation of Teachers, here to support Puerto Rico. You know, we’ve got to keep the schools open. The kids are the future.

CESAR HEREDIA: Well, I’m Cesar Heredia. I’m a current political science student in the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. We had an ongoing strike that lasted 70—62 days, but the paralyzation was 71, defending Puerto Ricans’ right to an accessible public education, which is right now undergoing $450 million in cuts planned by the fiscal control board. I actually wish that Puerto Rico could become free and be able to run its own destiny.

FRANKLIN FLORES: My name is Franklin Flores. I’m here to support Oscar López Rivera and the independence movement of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, and we have to fight for our freedom. If Puerto Rico becomes a state, it will be the suicide of the Puerto Rican nationality.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This is Juan González for Democracy Now! here at the Puerto Rican Day Parade of 2017.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, tens of thousands of people came out to the parade. Juan, final comments on what took place yesterday, both here in New York and on the island of Puerto Rico?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, it was important that not only the contingent marching with Oscar López Rivera was supporting of him, but many of the other groups in the parade—for instance, the Hispanic carpenters—had pictures of Oscar López Rivera that they were carrying, as well, so several of the other groups. The participation in the parade was significantly lower, even on the sides, from previous years. I think part of the problem has been, obviously, that the Puerto Rican community is smaller in New York City than it used to be. Many of the other Latino communities around the country have their own annual Puerto Rican Day Parades now. And the controversy did scare some people away. But still, it was an extraordinary showing and extraordinary sense of unity in the parade by the Latino community to say the parade committee chooses who the heroes are, not corporate America. And I think that’s the key thing that has to be understood from this year’s parade.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, we’ll continue to cover what’s happening in Puerto Rico, the bankruptcy. Just tune in here to democracynow.org.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a fascinating two-part discussion, from Baltimore to renters around the country. What’s their connection to the president of the United States? Stay with us.

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