Tens of thousands of Boricuas and supporters of their national struggle marched up Fifth Avenue Sunday in the 59th Annual National Puerto Rican Day.

This year’s parade was immersed in controversy over the parade organizers’ decision to honor Oscar Lopez Rivera with its National Freedom Award.The revolutionary served over 35 years in a U.S. prison for his leadership in the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) which fought for Puerto Rican independence from the U.S. The controversy continued even after the 74-year-old revolutionary declined the award, saying he would participate in the parade as a Puerto Rican and a grandfather.

Politicians, corporations pull out

Citing Oscar Lopez’s presence, the New York City police refused to participate in the Manhattan march, as did Governor Mario Cuomo. Major corporations like JetBlue, Coca Cola, and the iconic Latin food brand Goya pulled their sponsorship of the parade calling Oscar a “terrorist.” The mainstream corporate media echoed this lie, with outlets like the New York Daily News publishing article after article attacking Oscar yet failing to mention he was never convicted of any violent crime.

But even the Daily News had to admit that on June 11 the Puerto Rican community here gave Oscar a “hero’s welcome.”

Anti-colonial voices dominate Manhattan march

This media-and-corporate-manufactured controversy, along with the catastrophic debt crisis on the island of Puerto Rico, had set up this year’s event to be one of the most politically conscious parades in recent history.

Though the parade included Boricuas of various political tendencies, the most radical and revolutionary voices dominated.

Among the marchers was a large contingent of militant Puerto Rican activists dressed all in black, some with their faces masked, marched with signs donning the black and white Puerto Rican nationalist flag and the slogan “Defend Puerto Rico” with machetes.

A group of Palestinian organizers marched as well, holding a banner reading “From Palestine to Puerto Rico Abajo La Colonia — Existence is Resistance” with Oscar’s face over the Palestinian flag.

The Party for Socialism and Revolution led a contingent which chanted in both languages. One of the most well-received chants was “Oscar Querido: El pueblo esta contigo” (Oscar Loved one: the people are with you). Our banner read “End U.S. Colonialism and Wall Street Domination! Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre!”

Crowd chants: “Que Viva Oscar!”

Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans gathered on 5th Avenue to march with and cheer on Oscar. The crowd cheered and chanted along to cries of “Que viva Oscar! “Long Live Oscar!” and “Oscar, venció! Puerto Rico vencerá!” (Oscar overcame! Puerto Rico will overcome!)

Due to Puerto Rico’s colonial condition, it comes as no surprise that there were several parade-goers who expressed their disapproval, booing at Oscar and jeering at marchers that chanted in favor of Puerto Rican independence. They were however drowned out by the overwhelming love and pride for Oscar and the message of liberation for Puerto Rico.

The author had the opportunity to interview several participants in the 60th Puerto Rican Day Parade. “It’s especially important to honor people who have fought for the island in the past and present,” said Celeste Rodriguez, an American-born Boricua. She continued, “Even though he was not officially honored, it warmed my heart to see how he was definitely unofficially honored by those marching in the parade!”

Despite the attempts by the bourgeois media and major corporations to divide the Puerto Rican community on a day of pride and celebration, the masses of people remained united. During a time in which boricuas on the mainland and on the island especially are struggling, this year’s parade succeeded in bringing the community together in celebrating of their hero Oscar, their culture, and their history.

Brooklyn Puerto Rican organizers bar borough president from parade

The same corporations and politicians who pulled out of the Manhattan parade tried to weasel their way into the leadership of the Brooklyn parade. Aware that the nationalist forces had focused all of their forces and attention on the Manhattan parade, the vendidos (sell-outs) shifted their focus onto the local Brooklyn parade, attempting to divide the Puerto Rican community. A combination of the NYPD, their color guard, corporate sponsors and politicians overwhelmed local organizers and seized the front of the parade.

In a principled response, the organization el Grito de Sunset Park called out the opportunists.

Brooklyn’s Borough President Eric Adams, who reneged on an agreement to attend an open forum on Broken Windows policing, was barred from the Brooklyn parade “for rest of his natural life.”

El Grito had given Adams permission to attend the parade if he would also engage the community at a June 30 Broken Windows town hall event. The police’s “Broken Windows” policy, which results in arrests of community youth for bogus lifestyle “crimes,” is an issue of vital community importance. According to El Grito, not even 24 hours after the parade, Adams’ office said he was no longer going to attend the town hall due to a scheduling conflict “ that they only conveniently realized after the parade.”

As a result, El Grito announced:

“Borough President Adams is now the first elected official to have a lifetime ban from participating in the Sunset Park Puerto Rican Day parade. Politicians who use parades and festivals as photo ops but are unwilling to face the community epitomize the blatant, shameless opportunism that the public loathes.

“That Adams, a former police officer who espouses improved police-community relations, is unwilling to honor his commitment to discuss the most important criminal justice topic of the day with the Brooklyn community is symbolic of a bankrupt political system… There will be an empty chair with Eric Adams’ name on at the Broken Windows town hall on June 30th so that Brooklyn can see how little some politicians
care about creating a meaningful dialogue.”

El Grito de Sunset Park pledged to push forward with the forum and the struggle to end Broken Windows and the ongoing colonization of Puerto Rico.

From Brooklyn to East Harlem to San Juan

¡Que viva Oscar y que viva Puerto Rico libre!