HUMBOLDT PARK — Oscar López Rivera is wasting no time reconnecting with the Humboldt Park community.
Just one day after finishing his sentence for acts committed more than three decades ago, the Puerto Rican nationalist will return to the neighborhood for a celebration in his honor, which kicks off at 4 p.m. Thursday at La Casita de Don Pedro, 2625 W. Division St.
The celebration will mark the first Humboldt Park appearance for Rivera in decades, whose 55-year prison sentence for trying to overthrow the U.S. government was commuted earlier this year.
Local politicians and supporters Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), U.S. Rep Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), as well as community leaders such as Billy Ocasio from the National Puerto Rican Museum of Art, will be at the celebration, leading a march through the streets.
At around 4:20 p.m., the group will convene at Division and Mozart streets to unveil a street sign named in honor of Rivera. The celebration will continue at the Humboldt Park Boathouse, 1301 N. Humboldt Blvd., at 5 p.m.
In 1981, Rivera, now 74, was convicted of federal charges, including seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government, when he was a member of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional. The group, known as FALN, claimed responsibility for many bombings in major U.S. cities between 1974 and 1983. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison.
Rivera was one of 64 people who was granted a shortened sentence or, in some cases, a pardon by President Barack Obama right before Obama left office.
Rivera was born in Puerto Rico, but moved to Humboldt Park, one of the city's largest Puerto Rican enclaves, as a teenager. He went on to become an activist in the community before going off to fight in Vietnam.
His brother, Jose Lopez, has gone on to become one of Humboldt Park's most prominent figures as one of the founders of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and a fixture in local politics.
For years, many Humboldt Park residents have been calling for Rivera to be freed, painting murals around the neighborhood and marching in his honor at neighborhood-wide events.
Rivera is seen as either a political hero or a criminal.
His supporters say his prosecution and conviction was politically motivated. He has said FALN was "adhering to international law that says that colonialism is a crime against humanity and that colonial people have a right to achieve self-determination by any means, including force.”
Others had warned against a pardon, saying Rivera didn't deserve one. He became a fugitive in 1976 when investigators reportedly discovered what they called a "bomb factory" in his Chicago apartment.
Joseph Connor, the son of a FALN bombing victim, has called the street sign a "disgrace."
"It is sinister. It’s a direct insult to my father’s life," Connor told the Sun-Times. "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.”
Rivera will also be the grand marshal at the 39th annual Puerto Rican parade, set for June 17.