THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
N.Y. Parade Revives Past, Stirs Present
by Ivan Roman
March 20, 2000
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- For some, the timing couldn't have been better.
When organizers of the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City decided three years ago that the 2000 event would be dedicated to the late nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, few probably batted an eye.
After all, in 1988 they honored Luis Munoz Marin, the populist creator of the island's commonwealth status. And in 1999, the dedication speeches were for Jose Celso Barbosa, a black doctor considered the father of the statehood movement.
Now it is time for Albizu Campos, whose Puerto Rican Nationalist Party fought violently to achieve the island's independence at a time when the United States went through the Great Depression, fought World War II and entered the Cold War.
But coincidentally, or some would say by divine intervention, a lot has happened in Puerto Rico during the past year that Albizu Campos would have been happy about -- much of it having to do with the conflict between San Juan and Washington over the U.S. Navy's push to continue bombing on its target range on Vieques.
So, besides Albizu Campos, parade organizers also decided to dedicate this year's event along Fifth Avenue to the cause for peace on the island/municipality of Vieques.
"As far as I'm concerned, they go hand in hand," said New York City Councilman Adolfo Carrion, and past president of the Bronx Puerto Rican Day Parade.
For others, the timing couldn't have been worse.
The announcement came just days after about 90,000 people flocked to the Capitol in San Juan to show their loyalty to the United States at the "Party for My Citizenship."
And that party was aimed at erasing any negative image left in Washington by the silent "Peace for Vieques March" called by religious leaders during which more than 100,000 people with white flags marched down Las Americas Expressway. They objected to President Clinton's decision to allow target practice with inert bombs for at least another three years.
Those spearheading damage control for the island's image in Washington and who consider Clinton's decision the best Puerto Rico could get, say the New York parade dedication doesn't help.
Albizu Campos, a Harvard-educated lawyer, and his Nationalist Party were the target of much repression by local and federal authorities since the 1930s. That repression included the Ponce Massacre during a protest march that left 19 people dead and 150 wounded. The Nationalist Party carried out a series of uprisings in the 1950s and an attack on Congress in 1954 that wounded five congressmen.
"To dedicate the parade to a leader who ordered the assassination of a U.S. president and ordered the attack on Congress is totally the wrong message," said Puerto Rico Sen. Orlando Parga, considered to be part of the right wing of the New Progressive Party. "The political leadership of Puerto Rico should not endorse the symbolism behind Albizu Campos nor mix it with the Vieques issue."
Parga's call for NPP mayors to boycott the parade has fallen on deaf ears. He asked the leaders in New York to change their minds. They said no.
"We don't have to agree with what he did to honor him as a Puerto Rican of historic significance," Carrion said. "We honor people who have contributed to our collective consciousness."
The parade on June 11 will take place as the dispute over Vieques is expected to still be alive in some form, and as first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani are battling it out for Hispanic support in the U.S. Senate race. Vieques supporters in Puerto Rico and New York are hoping to use this as leverage.
For some, timing is everything.