After more than three decades in prison, Oscar Lopez Rivera was met with raucous applause during his return to Humboldt Park on Thursday.
He was convicted in 1981 for his role as a leader of the FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist group that claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings all across the country, including in Chicago. He was initially sentenced to 70 years in prison, but former President Barack Obama commuted his sentence after 35 years.
Hundreds of supporters gathered in the heavily Puerto Rican Humboldt Park neighborhood to welcome him back — a day after finishing his house arrest in Puerto Rico — and to unveil an honorary street sign for him in the neighborhood’s namesake park.
Beginning at La Casita de Don Pedro on West Division Street, supporters marched west to the park, led by a group of motorcyclists and a float carrying traditional Puerto Rican musicians and singers.
Among those welcoming Rivera were U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-4th) and aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Roberto Maldonado (26th), who spearheaded the street renaming efforts.
Addressing the crowd before the sign was unveiled, Maldonado said it was “personal” for him and recounted how Rivera held his late wife, Nancy, when she was a baby.
And while mostly supporters were in attendance, at least two protesters tried to disrupt the sign unveiling, with one holding a sign that decried Rivera as a terrorist. Another man, who had a camera and wore a press pass, screamed as Maldonado spoke, repeatedly calling him “a crook” who’s “selling us out.”
The string that was to be pulled to unveil the sign broke, and the covering was eventually pushed off with a flag pole.
The mood, though, was upbeat and mostly positive. A visible police presence remained throughout the afternoon and no arrests were made.
Some connected to FALN bombings have criticized the city’s decision to rename a street for Rivera.
Joseph Connor was just 9 years old when his 33-year-old banker father Frank was killed in the 1975 explosion at Fraunces Tavern in the Wall Street area of Manhattan. The FALN claimed responsibility.
“His group murdered my father. . . . He is a sworn terrorist. . . . He was convicted of bombings in Chicago that did injure people. He tried to escape from prison with machine guns and plastic explosives where he was gonna kill the guards. . . . And Chicago is going to put up a sign in his honor?” Connor previously told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“This is worse than a disgrace. It is sinister,” he said. “It’s a direct insult to my father’s life. The commutation was politically driven. But to honor in the second-largest city in the United States the leader of the terrorist group that murdered my father? It is so over the top, shameful and disgusting and vile, reprehensible.”
The City Council voted to approve the renaming earlier this year, with nine voting no. Most represented wards with a large police population.
“The street sign is in honor of Oscar Lopez. This is not related to any organization,” Maldonado previously said.