Lolita Lebron, Puerto Rican nationalist leader and revered
icon of independence, died on August 1 at age 90. She suffered from a cardiopulmonary
Being taken into custody, March 1, 1954
Amidst a sea of Nationalist and Puerto Rican flags, hundreds
of people showed up to pay their respects to Lebron who was lying in wait in
the island’s capital. A mass and a commemoration took place where political
figures, ex-political prisoners and independence fighters, as well as the
public at-large, expressed their love and respect for the woman who some are
now calling the “mother of Puerto Rican nationalism.” People sang the
nationalist anthem at various points and chanted “Lolita Lebron, example of
Among the prior political prisoners present were Alicia
Rodriguez, Carmen Valentin, Juan Segarra Palmer, Adolfo Matos, Elizam Escobar
and, the most recently released political prisoner and independence fighter,
Carlos Alberto Torres. While people waited in line to see Lolita, constant
chants of “Que viva Puerto Rico libre!” could be heard, along with the
response: “Que viva!”
Many speakers reflected on how Lebron’s life influenced them
personally and the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence. The Macheteros sent
a statement vowing to continue the fight for independence. Her widower, Dr.
Sergio Irizarry, said to the crowd present: “Don Pedro (Albizu Campos) and
Lolita are figures made of the same stuff, made with the fire of patriotic
passion that raises the people. The date of our independence is marked on the
calendar; sooner or later we will be free.”
The legislature, on behalf of Don Pedro Albizu Campos’
daughter, Laura Albizu, is petitioning the governor for an official three-day
mourning period for the whole country.
On Aug. 2, dozens of people attended a memorial for Lolita in Spanish Harlem next to a mural of Don Pedro Albizu Campos and
Che Guevara. Those in attendance remembered Lolita’s courage, the campaign to
win her release and her days in New York after she was released. Colleagues,
friends and longtime members of the independence movement spoke of her
indomitable strength in prison, and her profound impact on the struggle for
independence. Hiram Rivera, vice president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist
Party-NY, said, “Lolita will live in the hearts of those Puerto Ricans who
believe in the freedom of our nation.” A group of artists will be working on a
new mural dedicated to her in the next few weeks.
The attack on Congress and Lolita’s release
Doña Lolita, as she is singularly known in Puerto Rico—no
last name necessary—became a nationalist hero in 1954 when she organized an
assault on the U.S. Congress with her comrades Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving
Flores and Andres Figueroa Cordero.
On March 1, 1954, Lolita and her three comrades calmly
entered the Capitol, walked through the lobby and up to the visitor’s gallery
above the chamber in the House of Representatives, which was in session.
Shortly thereafter, Lolita gave the order, the Nationalists unfurled the Puerto
Rican flag, Lolita stood up and shouted “Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre!” and
within seconds they opened fire on the U.S. Congress.
Five congressmen were wounded in the attack. All four
Nationalists were immediately arrested. Soon after the attack, the mass media
launched a campaign to demonize the Puerto Rican independence movement.
But Lolita was not intimidated: “I am not sorry! I am not
sorry to come and demand freedom for my country in any place.” As she had
written on a note in her purse the day of the attack: “My life I give for the
freedom of my country. This is a cry for victory in our struggle for
independence. . . . The United States of America is betraying the sacred
principles of mankind in their continuous subjugation of my country.” The four
were soon convicted and given life sentences.
During the social upsurge of the 1960s and 1970s in Puerto
Rico and the United States, more and more people raised the demand for the
immediate release of the four as political prisoners and combatants in a just
war of self-determination. An international campaign arose, which gained steam
with the diplomatic and political support of revolutionary Cuba. The pressure
paid off in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to Lolita Lebron,
and the other nationalists, after spending 24 years in prison.
A living legacy
The action taken by Lolita Lebron and her comrades shocked
the imperialists in Washington and helped stimulate the independence movement
in Puerto Rico. Her life-long dedication to the cause serves as an inspiration
for the next generation of activists and revolutionaries to pick up the torch
of independence. With the recent victory of the student strike in Puerto Rico,
and the militancy of the labor movement, there exists the basis for a resurgent
The Party for Socialism and Liberation raises
unconditionally the banner of independence for Puerto Rico, regardless of the
tactics the national liberation movement employs to expel the reigns of foreign
oppression from its homeland. What Lolita and her comrades did reflected the
fury of the colonized Puerto Rican nation and every subjugated people that
strives for a world free of oppression.
The PSL honors the legacy of Lolita Lebron and sends our
regards to her family and comrades during these hard times. As revolutionaries
here in the colonizing country, we have a special responsibility to the Puerto
Rican independence movement: to weaken imperialism from within, and ultimately
overthrow it. We pledge to continue this struggle and forever raise the banner
of Puerto Rico’s independence.
What Lolita yelled that day in 1954 still resonates today:
“Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre!”