Recently released convicted terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera rode atop the first float in the annual Puerto Rican Parade on Sunday, occupying a place of honor right next to New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
And next week, the New York Public Theatre’s annual Shakespeare in the Park series will present as its summer offering a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” featuring, in a gruesomely bloody scene, the assassination of a Donald Trump look-alike.
Both the tribute to Mr. Lopez-Rivera and the portrayal and murder of a Trump-like Julius Caesar have been justified by supporters in the name of political and artistic freedom. Yet the sophistry in play with regard to both is unmistakable.
Over the past couple of weeks we have explored Ms. Mark-Viverito’s championing of Mr. Lopez-Rivera’s release. She relentlessly importuned President Obama to commute his 70-year sentence for weapons trafficking and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and in the waning days of his administration Mr. Obama freed him, 34 years early.
Mr. Lopez-Rivera had been charged over his key role in bombings perpetrated by the notorious FALN, including the 1975 attack on Manhattan’s Fraunces Tavern, which killed four people.
According to Ms. Mark-Viverito, Mr. Lopez-Rivera was a Puerto Rican nationalist dedicated to the just cause of independence for the island of Puerto Rico and therefore a political prisoner. And as perhaps the most powerful member of the Puerto Rican community in New York, she was in a position to promote him to the public.
So, having together with Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez secured Mr. Lopez-Rivera’s early release from federal prison on May 17, she engineered his being honored at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. And she was the lead signer of a letter joined in by 35 Council members that declared that
Oscar Lopez Rivera represents the voice, tenacity and resolve of Puerto Rico and its people…. As countless families continue to struggle in Puerto Rico’s current fiscal crisis, Oscar is a reminder of the hope that has always anchored the island…. Oscar’s presence will lift people’s spirits and bring attention to the challenges that must be immediately addressed on the island….We stand in solidarity with Oscar and express our full support for the Board’s decision to recognize and uplift the legacy of Oscar Lopez Rivera.
The fact is that following the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the United States by virtue of which residents enjoy all benefits of citizenship but cannot vote. (However, they are also exempt from U.S. taxes.) Significantly, in at last a half dozen referenda held over several decades – most recently just last week – as to whether the island should become an American state or be granted independence, the latter choice was overwhelmingly rejected in favor of statehood.
Yet Oscar Lopez-Rivera was a major part of an effort to terror -target Americans here in the name of Puerto Rican independence. He and his supporters thus cannot even offer the traditional political/national liberation arguments usually offered to justify violent acts against colonial occupiers.
In any event, Mr. Lopez-Rivera’s beef has always been with the people of Puerto Rico, not with the U.S. We were never part of the problem and we should not have been arbitrarily made part of a solution – not through peaceful means and certainly not through violent ones.
Now consider also the nature of the Trump/Caesar controversy.
Can we really dismiss the notion that the promoters of the production were motivated by a desire to support the anti-Trump “resistance”? Indeed, from the moment the presidential election was decided on the night of Nov. 8, an effort was launched to neutralize the results by delegitimizing the president-elect and any and all of his policy proposals.
Thus, there were the seemingly endless recounts of ballots and attempts to tamper with the Electoral College process. And then later came the challenges to presidential appointments and an unceasing media drumbeat of scorn and ridicule directed at the new administration.
We recall the clarion call to arms against the Trump presidency sounded by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Not in opposition to a particular policy but across the board obstruction designed to disable the president’s ability to govern.
To be sure, producers of timeless plays can seek to tailor their themes to implicate modern times and figures. And this is obviously an important and valuable part of the creative process. But given the palpably unprecedented assaults on President Trump, and the deep desire for his agenda and term to come to premature end, making Trump/Caesar the target of an assassination – even in the context of a Shakespearean play – seems highly inappropriate and incendiary.