AT&T, Coke & more ditch Puerto Rican Day Parade over controversial honoree
Jackie Wattles, CNN | 5/26/2017, 10:58 a.m.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Big-name sponsors are yanking their support from New York's 2017 Puerto Rican Day Parade after organizers decided to honor a man labeled by U.S. officials as a terrorist.
Coca-Cola, AT&T, JetBlue, Univision, The Daily News, the New York Yankees and Goya Foods are among the companies that have decided not to sponsor the event, which is scheduled to take place on June 11. It's expected to attract more than one million people.
The 2017 parade is set to honor Oscar López Rivera -- a man who was involved with FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist group that was linked to terrorist attacks in several US cities in the 1970s. Bombings that are believed to have been carried out by the group killed five people and injured dozens more.
Puerto Rico has been a US territory since 1898, and various separatist movements have cropped up ever since. Today, Puerto Rico is in the throes of an economic crisis that has spurred many to flee the island for the US mainland. Some blame Puerto Rico's current troubles, at least in part, on the US government.
US law enforcement officials have labeled López Rivera as a terrorist for decades, though he was never directly linked to any attacks. He served upwards of 30 years of a 50-year prison sentence for "seditious conspiracy" before President Obama commuted his sentence on Jan. 18.
In a May 12 statement defending the decision to honor López Rivera, parade organizers said that while López Rivera is undoubtedly "controversial," he is nevertheless an extremely influential Puerto Rican.
"Some people call him a terrorist while others think of him as a freedom fighter, as was the case with Nelson Mandela," the statement reads. It adds that his "participation is not an endorsement of the history that led to his arrest, nor any form of violence."
Some companies have severed ties with the parade regardless.
AT&T, JetBlue, Coca-Cola, Univision, The New York Yankees and The Daily News all said that instead of paying sponsorship fees, they would donate funds to the parade's scholarship program.
JetBlue said in a statement that "it became clear that the debate about this year's parade was dividing the community and overshadowing the celebration of Puerto Rican culture that we had set out to support."
The Daily News said in an editorial posted Wednesday that, while the parade is a "wonderful event," the decision to honor Lopéz Rivera was "ill-advised."
Univision-owned television and radio stations WXTV, WADO 1280AM, and La X 96.3 also pulled their sponsorships. Univision said in a statement that the stations will continue to provide news coverage of the event.
Goya Foods spokesperson Rafael Toro cited "business reasons" for the company's decision to pull out of the parade. The company declined to state whether it had anything to do with López Rivera's participation.
Parade organizers said in a May 23 statement that they are "saddened and disappointed" about losing sponsors, and said it's possible other organizations will follow suit.
A list of sponsors that once appeared on the event's webpage is no longer visible, but as of November last year it included names like McDonald's, Monster Energy, City University of New York, Corona, People En Español and several local media organizations.
The magazine People En Español declined to say whether it is a sponsor this year. The other companies did not immediately respond to CNNMoney's request for comment.