[News] Lolita Lebrón, A Bold Fighter for Puerto Rican Independence
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
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.
¡QUE VIVA PUERTO RICO LIBRE!
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