Despite Recent Controversy, Over 1 Million Flock To NYC’s Annual Puerto Rican Day Parade

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Puerto Rican pride was on display along Fifth Avenue Sunday, but the appearance of a former militant this year cast a slightly divisive tone over the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

As CBS2’s Emily Smith reported, it was a day of pizzazz, showmanship and recognition along the parade route Sunday, on Fifth Avenue from 44th Street north to 79th Street.

PHOTOS: New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade

But the 60th Annual Puerto Rican Day Parade was not without controversy. Among the participants was Oscar López Rivera, who spent 35 years in prison for his involvement with a group responsible for bombings that killed and maimed dozens in the 1970s and 1980s.

Among them was a 1975 bombing at Fraunces Tavern in the Financial District that left four people dead more than 40 injured.

Corporate sponsors including AT&T and JetBlue dropped out of Sunday’s parade over the organizers’ decision to honor López Rivera, 74, a former member of the militant Puerto Rican nationalist group Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN.

MORE: NYPD Commissioner Says He Won’t March In Puerto Rican Day Parade

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, police Commissioner James O’Neill, and several police and fire department groups also said they wouldn’t attend.

“I think a specific set of people wanted to make this into an issue,” said Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-45th). “I think the people who are here just want to celebrate pride and culture.”

López Rivera was on board the first float. Following major pushback from some city and state lawmakers, he declined to accept the honor of National Freedom Hero.

Mayor Bill de Blasio kept a 10-block distance from López Rivera,but he did march and he had fun with the crowd in this election year.

Others said they’d march to show support for Puerto Rico despite disagreeing with FALN’s methods.

“I will not let the controversy surrounding one man become bigger than the hearts of millions of Puerto Ricans,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. wrote last week.

Of López Rivera, paradegoer Gladys Ortiz said: “They should have limited him. I think he took half of our parade away.”

City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito marched in strong support of López Rivera, which some people applauded.

“I think he is sending the message, we belong here,” said Jose Diaz, who supports López Rivera.

Mark-Viverito blames journalists for turning the debate into a big deal.

“This is a day of unity, a celebration, not a controversy being made up by the press,” she told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern.

A man named Fred tells 1010 WINS’ Stern he considers him a hero.

“He struggled to decolonize Puerto Rico, one of the last colonies in the world,” he said.

MORE: De Blasio Says He Privately Threatened To Sit Out Puerto Rican Day Parade Over López Rivera Involvement

Despite the controversy, more than a million New Yorkers still turned out full of Puerto Rican pride and flair.

“It’s great to see my culture and history. It’s amazing,” one participant said.

“It just brings back memories to when I was a child raised in Puerto Rico,” another said. “I just love it.”

New York’s first Puerto Rican parade took place in 1958 when it was barely legal to display the Puerto Rican flag on the island and Puerto Ricans on the mainland faced harsh discrimination. It has grown to a nationally televised spectacle.

The parade came amid a major recession in Puerto Rico, and also on the day on which voters overwhelmingly approved statehood in a nonbinding referendum that would make the U.S. territory the 51st state.

Congress will ultimately have to approve the outcome of Sunday’s referendum. Some Puerto Ricans blame the current recession on the U.S. government, partly because of the elimination of tax credits that many say led to the collapse of the island’s manufacturing sector.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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