[News] Lolita Lebrón, A Bold Fighter for Puerto Rican Independence

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Mar 1 14:50:38 EST 2021


  Lolita Lebrón, A Bold Fighter for Puerto Rican Independence

February 28, 2021

*/By Carlito Rovira/*

Throughout Puerto Rican history, women have played an exemplary and 
leading role in the struggle against colonialism and oppression. 
Political and military leaders like Mariana Bracetti, Lola Rodríguez De 
Tío, Juana Colón, Blanca Canales and many others, have been models of 
courage and devotion to the struggle for independence and 

One of the most widely known and respected women from the 20th century 
Puerto Rican liberation struggle is Lolita Lebrón.


Lolita came from a poor, working-class family. She was born in the year 
1919, when U.S. colonial rule in Puerto Rico was open and brutal, with 
rampant social misery. Her family lived in the legendary city of Lares, 
known for the 1868 “*/El Grito de Lares 
uprising against Spanish colonialism and chattel slavery in Puerto Rico.

The hardships Lolita’s family faced during her youth, brought upon by 
the tightening of U.S. colonialism’s economic dominance in the 
country, contributed to Lolita Lebrón’s strong character. As a young 
woman, like so many of her compatriots, she decided to leave Puerto Rico 
in 1940 in search of a better life.

After World War II and into the 1960s, an average of 63,000 people 
migrated annually to the United States from Puerto Rico. By the end of 
this migration, nearly half of the Puerto Rican nation would be 
uprooted. They were pushed off their land in order to make way for 
lucrative agricultural and mining industries. This was an aspect of 
Washington’s colonial policy in the interests of giant capitalist 
corporations but at the expense of the Puerto Rican masses.

Lolita Lebrón settled in New York City’s East Harlem, then the 
largest community of Puerto Ricans outside of Puerto Rico. Like so many 
who migrated to find work in New York City, Lolita was employed as a 
stitcher in the city’s garment district. She immediately came face to 
face with the racism and exploitation that defines life for immigrant 
workers in the United States.

    *The Nationalist Party*

Flag of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico.

Having a proud sense of her self-identity and a strong belief in the 
cause for Puerto Rico’s independence, Lolita increasingly developed 
resentment for the presence of a foreign invader in the homeland she 
adored. And because Lolita witnessed first hand the suffering of her 
people who were compelled by colonialism to migrate to a distant land to 
endure racism and discrimination, she joined the New York committee of 
the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, led by */Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos 

The Nationalist Party was banned in 1938. It continued its activities 
under intense repression, especially following the */1950 Jayuya 
and the attempted assassination in the same year of President Harry S. 
Truman by Nationalists Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola in 
retaliation for the crackdown that followed Jayuya. During the 
anti-communist, anti-labor and racist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era, 
the Nationalist Party committee in New York City secretly operated under 
the name “Movimiento Libertador” (Liberation Movement).

The New York committee served as a rear guard within the colonizing 
country to gather political and financial support for the movement in 
Puerto Rico. They held many public meetings with the hope of organizing 
the Puerto Rican community and to draw allies around the issue of 

    *Colonizers shift tactics*

Taking advantage of the imprisonment of the revolutionary leadership, 
the U.S. government shifted its methods to disguise its role as 
colonizers. The governorship of Puerto Rico was no longer to be a 
military official appointed by the U.S. president. Instead, the U.S. 
granted supposedly “free elections” from among Puerto Rican 
candidates who were approved exclusively by the U.S. rulers. In 
addition, in 1952 the U.S.-dominated United Nations was persuaded to 
approve a resolution that designated the case of Puerto Rico as an 
internal matter of the United States.

Faced with this new reality, anti-colonial activists had to find new 
tactics to expose the colonial reality that Puerto Rico still 
experienced. Albizu Campos put out a call to carry out any form of 
action that would highlight the criminal nature of the U.S. domination 
of Puerto Rico.

A group of members from the New York committee—Rafael Cancel Miranda, 
Andrés Figueroa Cordero, Irvin Flores and Lolita Lebrón—secretly 
prepared to respond to Albizu Campos’s call. For many weeks and months 
the four patriots met to discuss the target, chosen with no regard for 
their own personal safety or survival.

With no mention of their plan to their families or friends, the four 
left for Washington, expecting never to return. Their only concern was 
to achieve the political objective in the action they were to take.

    A bold and daring attack

On the morning of March 1, 1954, members of the House of Representatives 
were meeting to discuss immigration policy and the government of 
democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz of Guatemala—a 
government that the CIA overthrew in November of that year. The four 
patriots calmly entered the Capitol building, passing through the lobby 
and up the stairs to a balcony designated for visitors.

As the proceedings went on, the Nationalists unfurled the */Puerto Rican 
Lolita Lebrón then shouted, “/*QUE VIVA PUERTO RICO LIBRE*!/” 
Within seconds of brandishing and aiming their automatic weapons, the 
four revolutionaries opened fire on the U.S. Congress.

Gunfire broke out and bullets whistled through the air. Panic erupted in 
the chamber. Many congressional figures and their staff began screaming 
as they frantically pushed one another to get to the exit doors. Others 
avoided being shot by running to hide underneath tables and behind chairs

Before it ended, 30 rounds were fired. Five congressmen were wounded. 
All government buildings were shut down, and security throughout the 
city of Washington was increased.

The four Nationalists were immediately apprehended. The mass media 
launched a vicious campaign to demonize them and the entire Puerto Rican 
independence movement. The four were ultimately convicted and sentenced 
to life imprisonment.

Members of the NYC Committee to Free the Nationalists took over the 
Statue of Liberty to demand their release.

As the Puerto Rican people mounted their struggle for the right of 
self-determination in Puerto Rico and in the United States during the 
upsurge of the 1960s and 1970s, more and more people raised the demand 
for the immediate release of Puerto Rican political prisoners. Thanks to 
the diplomatic work and solidarity of the Cuban revolutionary 
government, an international campaign galvanized widespread support for 
their release.

The political pressure paid off in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter 
granted amnesty to Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andrés 
Figueroa Cordero, Irvin Flores as well as Oscar Collazo. All five were 
released from prison.

Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz invited the formerly imprisoned 
Nationalists to Cuba to receive that country’s highest honor, Medal of 
the Order of the Bay of Pigs.
Lolita Lebron was arrested in 2001 for civil disobedience demanding the 
U.S. Navy out of Vieques.

The bold action taken by the four Puerto Rican patriots was an event 
that shocked the imperial-minded men of privilege — a shock that the 
U.S. ruling class has never forgotten. The colonizers of Puerto Rico 
never imagined that the people they victimized would dare such a bold 
act within the capital of the empire.

What Lolita, Rafael, Andrés and Irvin did on that day symbolizes not 
only the fury of the colonized Puerto Rican nation but of every 
oppressed people that strives for a world without imperialist oppression.

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