For the first time the parade officially paid tribute to the long-time independence fighter, and its board of directors called for his release. Some 350 people marched in the “Free Oscar López” contingent, drawing attention from onlookers who lined the 35 blocks of one of New York’s largest parades, which draws hundreds of thousands each year.
López, 71, was arrested on May 29, 1981, and accused of being a leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), a group that was fighting for independence of Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony since 1898. Because they had no evidence that López was involved in bombings attributed to the group, U.S. prosecutors charged him with “seditious conspiracy,” as well as lesser weapons violations.
López’s case is more widely known in Puerto Rico, where actions demanding his release have been growing and church officials, prominent artists and performers, and politicians from every political party on the island — including those that oppose independence — have backed calls for his release.
While not as well-known in the U.S. — even among those of Puerto Rican descent in New York — his case attracted attention along the parade route with some onlookers chanting along with the contingent, “33 years, Oscar López must be free.” A handful of parade-goers did not like the message and shouted, “No, no, no! when the contingent passed.”
‘I want more information’“I never knew about him,” Lilly Morales, 30, said after seeing the contingent. “Now I want more information.” After hearing details of the frame-up, she said, “It’s not right to lock him up like that.” The crowd eagerly took the 5,000 palm cards with basic facts on the case passed out by contingent participants.
“Supporters of the fight to free Oscar, came from Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Juan and Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, as well as the New York area,” Ana López, spokesperson for the New York Coordinator to Free Oscar López, which organized the parade contingent in collaboration with the National Boricua Human Rights Network, told the Militant.
The contingent included large delegations from the Puerto Rican Cultural Center from Chicago, the Nationalist Party in New York, 33 NYC Women for Oscar, the Puerto Rican Independence Party, and El Maestro cultural center and boxing club. There were also delegations from the Socialist Workers Party, Wrongful Conviction, ProLibertad and others. Congressman Luis Gutiérrez from Chicago marched at the head of the contingent along with José López, Oscar’s brother. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, René Pérez from popular hip hop group Calle 13 and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Vice President María Kercado joined the contingent in the home stretch.
Last September the AFL-CIO labor federation convention approved a resolution calling for López’s “immediate and unconditional release.” And former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for his release.
“I just learned about Oscar López a year ago,” said Desiré Garced, one of the participants in the parade contingent. “I respect a lot what he represents.”
The New York Post showed its disdain toward the growing support for López’s release by publishing an article the day of the parade titled “Fool’s Parade: Officials Sully Puerto Rican Day with Their Support of a Terrorist.” The Post didn’t bother to report the main thought-control charge he was convicted of.
Armando Arcelay, 65, a small cattle rancher, flew from Puerto Rico to join the Oscar López contingent. “Oscar did not commit any crime except to defend his homeland,” he said. “Just like the marches forced the U.S. Navy out of Vieques, we have to continue marching until Oscar is free.”
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