On Aug. 1, Puerto Ricans remember the legacy of nationalist icon Lolita Lebron, who fought for the independence of the island and was jailed for 25 years after an attack on the U.S. Congress.
Lebron died seven years ago at the age of 90, as she became an important figure in the independence movement on the island.
On March 1, 1954, Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irvin Flores and Andres Figueroa walked into the U.S. House of Representatives building where lawmakers were debating an immigration bill, and began shooting, to call the world's attention to the colonial plight of Puerto Rico and the U.S. government's repression against its independence movement.
It's been more than 60 years since Lebron led the attack, uttering one of her most famous phrases after being detained, saying she wasn't there to kill anyone "but to die for Puerto Rico."
She entered the building with a Puerto Rican flag, shouting “Long live free Puerto Rico!.”
They fired thirty shots and wounded five U.S. Representatives, before being arrested. Lebron was convicted of attempted murder and other crimes.
In 1979, after a massive international campaign, President Jimmy Carter pardoned her, along with Miranda and Flores, after they spent 25 years in U.S. prison. Carter had pardoned Figueroa in 1977 as he was reportedly ill with cancer, he died in March 1979.
Lebron had a political awakening in 1937 at the age of 18. A group of Puerto Rican activists working for independence from the United States were marching against the imprisonment of a leader in their movement, and police officers opened fire on the peaceful demonstration, killing 19 civilians. This event became known as the Ponce Massacre.
During the 1950's, hundreds of supporters of independence were incarcerated. Some would remain in prison for up to two decades.
Repressive legislation made it largely illegal to advocate in support of Puerto Rican independence. In the 1950's, those who did were incarcerated merely for speaking in public, as proven by the publicly available transcripts of court trials.
Puerto Rico has been occupied by the United States since the U.S. war with Spain in 1898. Since then, the U.S. Congress has exercised sovereignty over the island nation, whose residents have no voice or vote in Congress and cannot vote in presidential elections despite being U.S. citizens.
Puerto Rico continues to suffer the effects of colonialism as evidenced by the current debt crisis on the island.