This year’s Puerto Rican pride parade set in Manhattan has a controversial hero. Oscar Lopez Rivera. Lopez Rivera was incarcerated for his involvement in the terrorist group FALN. The FALN is Puerto Rican independence separatist group who claimed responsibility of bombings throughout New York, Chicago and Washington in the 70’s. Even though he was never found to be directly involved in the bombings, Lopez Rivera takes pride in his involvement with the group.
Why would a known terrorist be wanted as a speaker in the annual New York Parade? It seems those who support Lopez Rivera see him as a freedom fighter who represents an independent Puerto Rico. More so, he helped create social programs in Chicago that benefit the Puerto Rican community. He has been compared to Nelson Mandela as a hero who will do whatever is needed for his country. He is loved by many young people. But not everyone holds him in high regard. Beside the U.S. government, many in the older generation see him as a terrorist. How freedom is fought should be taken into consideration when making someone a hero.
In the 2012 Puerto Rican election, less than 6% voted for independence although 61% voted for the possibility of statehood. Lopez Rivera is in the small percentage of those who want the commonwealth to be self-governing. Even if there were more who wanted independence, there is a difference between terrorism and war. Terrorism is the use of intimidation for political gain. War is the struggle of opposing forces. Fight for it, don’t bully for it.
So, why was he released early? Why was the Pope such an advocate of his release? And Obama and Clinton? Clinton did in fact offer clemency to Lopez Rivera which he refused. And to be clear, clemency is not the same thing as exoneration. Lopez Rivera was guilty. He himself claimed his involvement. And to say he was not directly involved with the bombings is the same as letting Hitler off because he didn’t pull the gas chamber switch. Clinton took this into consideration in his offer as well as Obama. The offer was one of compassion because of his age and in an attempt to improve the relationship with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Although I don’t always agree with the decisions made by the President, I can see why it was done here. But to make this man a national hero is absurd. There are those who deserve to be honored. Vargos Vidot is a philanthropist who sought to educate the public on AIDS. Esmeralda Santiago is a renowned author and activist for her country. Both are worthy of being spotlighted. Lopez Rivera took lives to make his point. If he did not do it directly, he advocated it and was a member of the terrorist group. He was guilty. Should he be given hero status because of his beliefs or should he be seen as the terrorist he is because of his actions?
Give the hero status to those who deserve it; those who sought freedom creatively with peace. But do not celebrate a violent man because he wants something good. Celebrate a good man because he does something good.