There's been so much controversy surrounding the appearance of recently released prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera in this weekend's Puerto Rican Parade. Now he's telling his story to NY1's Jeanine Ramriez in a rare sit-down interview.
"I would be remorseful if I did something wrong," Oscar Lopez Rivera told me Thursday night.
Lopez Rivera says he has nothing to apologize for.
He denies any role in the deadly bombings in the 1970s and 80s by the Puerto Rican nationalist group known as FALN, including the attack on Fraunces Tavern that killed four people.
Lopez Rivera adds he should not be considered a terrorist, or even an FALN leader.
"We have a situation where I have nothing to do with that," Lopez Rivera said.
Lopez Rivera was released last month after 35 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and transporting explosives with the intent to kill. He was not charged with any specific acts of violence.
"I did not defend myself, so the government could have put any evidence that they wanted and it would not be challenged at all," Lopez Rivera told me.
President Obama commuted his sentence in January, and the National Puerto Rican Day Parade committee said it would honor him as a freedom hero.
But that decision sparked an uproar. The governor and police commissioner said they would not march, and sponsors pulled out.
Trying to defuse the controversy, parade committee officials said Lopez-Rivera would no longer have a formal role but would still march.
Ramirez: You have been labelled many things: freedom fighter, terrorist, hero, enemy of the state. Which do you identify with?
Lopez Rivera: I identify myself as a Puerto Rican who loves Puerto Rico.
Lopez Rivera says he still wants Puerto Rico to be an independent nation, free from U.S. control.
"Colonialism is a crime, just like Mandela was right in trying to overthrow a government that was racist," Lopez Rivera reflected.
Lopez Rivera says it's the people who get to pick their heroes, not corporations or government officials.
He sidestepped if he agreed with the parade's decision to withdraw honoring him, saying only he's looking forward to marching Sunday.
"The most important thing is for the parade to be celebrated," he said. "I want to be part of the parade. I want to be in New York and say, 'I was active, walking in the parade.'"
Active as a free man, as a Puerto Rican nationalist, and as a lightning rod for controversy.
Despite his decision, Lopez Rivera praised the parade committee for not backing down.
"Puerto Ricans cannot, cannot, cannot allow, we cannot allow ourselves ever, ever to be dictated by anyone, except our conscience. Our will our mind, our spirit, to do what we think is right," Lopez Rivera said.
Lopez Rivera also attended a special tribute in the Bronx on Thursday, an event at Hostos Community College that featured music, dance, and poetry to celebrate his recent release from prison.