Just hours after he completed his house arrest in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, marking the end of his federal prison sentence, Oscar López Rivera said that Puerto Ricans should boycott Goya Foods for ending its sponsorship of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.
“Goya has the right to say whatever it wants to say,” the 74-year-old López Rivera said in Spanish near the end of the conference, in response to a question from Frances Robles of the New York Times. “And the Puerto Rican people have the right to do what they want to do—boycotting Goya. I think Goya would have more to lose if Puerto Rico boycotted it, and all Puerto Ricans, here and in the diaspora, boycotted Goya. So I think Goya has more to lose than us.”
The 74-year-old López Rivera, whose sentence for seditious conspiracy in 1981 was commuted by President Obama in January, has been at the center of a controversy that saw Goya Foods end its 60-year relationship with the iconic New York City parade, which is honoring López Rivera on June 11.
At first, an initial May 15 report from El Diario wrote that Goya Foods had sent a letter to the parade board, which said that López Rivera was “a terrorist and member of the FALN [Armed Forces of National Liberation]” and cited “an aggressive social media campaign against our company” to pressure Goya into pulling out of the parade. Since the May 15 article, El Diario has scrubbed the reference to the Goya letter with no explanation, and Goya Foods’ Rafael Toro went on record to explain that its decision was purely a “business decision,” the same reason given by the parade board.
On May 16, Goya Foods issued a statement reported in the Puerto Rican press where it said that the initial report of a letter was “false and contentious,” and that Goya Foods’ decision “was strictly a business decision and based on its corporate policy of non-confrontation. Goya does not endorse or participate in events or activities that are controversial to the public or that polarize the opinions of the interested parties for or against, as has unfortunately happened on this occasion” (translated by Latino Rebels). El Diario clarified Goya’s position in a May 16 story, but never acknowledged the reporting error from the May 15 article.
In addition, HuffPost Latino Voices reported on Wednesday afternoon that Goya Foods said “the letter was false and NOT written by Rafael Toro… or any employees or affiliates of Goya Foods.”
Earlier this month, the parade board announced that López Rivera was being given a “National Freedom Hero” designation. An May 7 online petition calling for the parade to remove the honor from López Rivera has generated close to 1,500 signatures, while there have been some sporadic social media calls against the parade. The #BoycottGoya hashtag currently shows tweets that celebrated López Rivera and others that praised Goya’s decision.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was in Puerto Rico Wednesday to support López Rivera, complimented the parade for honoring him.
“Oscar López Rivera represents the voice, tenacity and resolve of Puerto Rico and its struggles,” Mark-Viverito told Latino USA. “His release is not only a win for our island, but for our country’s democracy and criminal justice system—and that’s why I’m proud that tireless advocacy led to President Obama granting Oscar clemency. We stand in solidarity with Oscar, and I thank the National Puerto Rican Day parade for recognizing and uplifting his legacy.”
The story of López Rivera has always caused division among Puerto Ricans, although in recent years, calls for his release had support from people with contrasting political ideologies. Earlier this year, Latino USA dedicated an entire hour to López Rivera, covering the violent history of the pro-independence FALN during the 1970s (responsible for setting off more than 70 bombs in American cities) and the federal cases against Puerto Rican nationalists.
Earlier in the press conference, López Rivera expressed solidarity with the protest movement against Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, while also thanking the governments of Venezuela and Cuba, as well as Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama.