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Puerto Rican nationalist to march, but not as parade honoree

FILE - In this Thursday, May 18, 2017 file photo, Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera reacts to the crowd at a gathering in his honor in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. New York City's mayor Bill de Blasio says Thursday, June 1, 2017, Rivera recently freed from prison has agreed to step aside from any formal role in the city's Puerto Rican Day parade. Parade organizers had planned to honor Rivera, a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, which claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in the 1970s and 1980s. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A Puerto Rican nationalist recently freed from prison will still march in a Manhattan parade — even though he has stepped aside from a formal role as “Procer de la Libertad,” or National Freedom Hero.

It’s unclear whether that development will placate critics who objected to the parade committee’s original plan to honor Oscar Lopez Rivera, who was part of a militant group responsible for bombings in the 1970s and ’80s that killed and maimed New Yorkers.

The parade’s board of directors said in a statement that Lopez Rivera will march June 11 in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade — “not as an honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.”

“Unfortunately, the narrative around the parade is not celebration and concern for the situation on the island, but rather misinformation about who I am and what I stand for,” Lopez Rivera wrote in an op-ed published Thursday in the Daily News of New York.

“We must shift the focus. We cannot let people who are unfamiliar with Puerto Rican history define the narrative and experiences of our community,” he continued. “I want to repeat what I have said in many interviews, both in prison and since my release. I personally, and we as a community have transcended violence — it’s crucial for people to understand that we’re not advocating anything that would be a threat to anyone.”

The parade down Fifth Avenue lost most of its major sponsors following the decision to honor Lopez Rivera. He was a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo also said he wouldn’t be marching. Cuomo said Friday that he still planned not to march in the parade.

At least three sponsors that pulled out, AT&T, Coca-Cola and Goya Foods, hadn’t changed their minds Friday afternoon. Coca-Cola was still donating to the parade’s scholarship program, however.

Hispanic societies in both the Fire Department of New York and the New York Police Department also said they would not be sending delegations this year, and the police commissioner said he wouldn’t march. Law enforcement officers were among those injured in the FALN blasts.

Lopez Rivera served more than 35 years in prison before his sentence was commuted by Democratic President Barack Obama.

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