Oscar Lopez Rivera celebrated in Humboldt Park

CHICAGO (WLS) -- People gathered in Humboldt Park to celebrate Oscar Lopez Rivera following a parade. Many in the crowd waited for years to see this moment, and people ranging from Pope Francis to Broadway start Lin Manuel Miranda have called for his release. But others said there is no reason to celebrate someone they call a terrorist.

Thursday marked the first time the self-proclaimed Puerto Rican freedom fighter and convicted criminal returned to Chicago's streets in decades.

"I love this community because I was part of this community. I worked in this community," he told the crowd.

To the crowd, he is their Puerto Rican patriot worthy of nothing less than a parade.

"It's surreal, I honestly didn't believe this day would come," said Miguel Morales, supporters.

Before leaving office in January, Former President Barack Obama commuted Lopez Rivera's sentence. He served 35 years of a 55-year federal prison sentence for seditious conspiracy as a known leader of the Puerto Rican ultranationalist organization FALN.

Though Lopez Rivera was never convicted of terrorism, his group was linked to more than 70 bombings of government buildings in Chicago, New York and other cities. Wednesday he stepped out of house arrest in Puerto Rico.

In Humboldt Park, where the 74-year-old spent years, an honorary street will now bear his name. But for many it's a painful sight.

"I do not feel it's right or correct," said Mark Heller, Logan Square activist. "Oscar Lopez Rivera is not a hero and not a patriot."

Joe Connor's father died in a FALN bombing when he was nine. For him, all of this is unacceptable.

"Celebrating a terrorist. I mean, that's what they're doing, they're celebrating a terrorist, a sworn enemy of this country," Connor said. "It takes a little bit of your soul away. Every time I have to defend my father's life I feel like I lose part of my own."

He's not along. But among the gathered crowd Thursday, Oscar Lopez Rivera is revered as their hero.

Lopez Rivera will next serve as the grand marshal in the Puerto Rican parades in Chicago and New York City, which has also sparked controversy.
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