Monday, March 1, 2010



On March 1st, 1954, while Puerto Rican beauty Rita Moreno graced the cover of LIFE magazine and while the US was exploding the first hydrogen bomb on the bikini atoll in the Marshall islands, another bomb was about to drop at u.s. imperialist headquaters.
4 Puerto Rican Nationalists led by Lolita Lebron, opened fire over a session of the US House of Representatives, demanding independence for Puerto Rico.
Yasmin Hernandez, Visual Artist

Liberator Lolita
- by Yaz

“You must know the facts, the United States will repress anyone that tries to assert their birthright on nationhood.” - Lolita

On March 1st, 1954, four Puerto Rican guerrilleros arrived on the steps of the u.s. capitol with a 34 year-old women as their commander. Standing over a meeting of the u.s. House of Representatives with Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irvin Flores Rodriguez and Andres Figueroa Cordero by her side, Lolita Lebron gave the order to fire their guns, screaming, "¡Viva Puerto Rico libre!" and unfurling a Puerto Rican flag. Their intent was to protest the illegal u.s. occupation of Puerto Rico since 1898 and, more specifically, to denounce the attempt to camouflage Puerto Rico’s colonial condition with the new so-called "commonwealth" status that was approved in 1952. The world was shocked that it was a woman who led the Puerto Rican Nationalist attack on Washington. However in taking a closer look at the Puerto Rico of Lolita's youth, one could only wonder why there wasn't a whole army of liberator
Lolitas lashing out at the imperialist.

Lares, also called “el Altar de la Patria” is the heart of revolutionary sentiment in Puerto Rico. It was in this mountain town that on September 23rd, 1868 women and men took up arms against the Spanish colonizers in El Grito de Lares, proclaiming the new Republic of Puerto Rico. Although the colonial authorities were able to crush the rebellion with the help of informants, that uprising is credited with having cemented the Puerto Rican nationality in the hearts and minds of Boricuas. A little over 50 years after the insurrection, Lares became the birthplace of another light in the struggle for liberation: Lolita Lebron.

Dolores "Lolita" Lebron was born to a family of cigar workers at a time when Puerto Ricans had either witnessed first-hand the transfer of their land from one imperialist to another or were met face to face with the brutal realities of a new colonial authority. In 1917, two years before her birth, the Jones Act made all Puerto Ricans citizens of the united states (without their consent) allowing the colonizer to draft Puerto Rican men to fight in WWI and every u.s. war thereafter. In response to these injustices, the Nationalist Party (NP) was founded with the purpose of liberating Puerto Rico. In 1929, when Lolita was 10 years old, Don Pedro Albizu Campos was elected President of the NP. He transformed the party into a liberation army that advocated and engaged in armed struggle against the u.s. colonizers.

During this time, Puerto Rican children were among those witnessing first-hand the hardships of the new colonial system. Lolita reminisces on how she and all the other Spanish-speaking children were required to recite the u.s. pledge of allegiance in class and read English textbooks. She remembers that the young children who resisted were forced to wet their pants for not asking permission to use the bathroom in English—an act she defines as u.s. terrorism. Her adolescent years were marked by intense battles between Puerto Rican Nationalists and the colonial authorities. Innocent Boricuas were being slaughtered at the hands of colonial police. In 1936, the Nationalists responded by killing the Chief of Police in retaliation for the colonial injustices suffered. They amplified their battle against every new law, or control tool imposed upon Puerto Ricans and their right to be free. With
Albizu’s slogan: "Where tyranny is law, revolution is order", the Nationalists warned Puerto Ricans against trusting a system that was ultimately controlled by the enemy, the colonizer.

By the time Lolita reached her adult years, a massive sterilization campaign was being launched in Puerto Rico. Women were aggressively encouraged to get their tubes tied, but not informed that this procedure would permanently sever their fallopian tubes, resulting in their infertility. Promoted as an anti-poverty campaign, the plan seemed to serve a more genocidal agenda to de-populate Puerto Rico of Puerto Ricans while keeping the island itself under u.s. colonial control. As Albizu said, "The Yankees wanted the birdcage without the bird". Other racist plans were put in effect by u.s doctors to curb the “breeding of the undesirables." Boricua women were used as lab rats to experiment the new contraceptive pill. The dangerously high levels of hormones in these early pills that were tested on Puerto Rican women were the reason for the long lists of warnings that now accompany birth control
pill packages.

During this same time, the colonial government initiative "Operation Bootstrap" aided in destroying the island's agricultural economy, replacing it with an industrial one. Wiping-out crops across the island meant that Boricuas no longer produced their own food. They now had to import all their food from expensive u.s. markets. Consequently, the women of Puerto Rico, Lolita Lebron included, became part of a u.s. experiment to develop Puerto Rico into a kind of island-wide sweatshop. This new u.s.-driven economy required the cheap labor of both Puerto Rican men and women for the benefit and profit of foreign corporations. Having less mothers and less pregnant women meant more cheap female labor, which is why factories heavily supported the sterilization campaign, even giving women special days off to get sterilized. And for those u.s. corporations who didn't want to open up shop in the
island itself, hoards of Puerto Ricans were encouraged to migrate to the united states in pursuit of the "american dream". The real purpose however was to have them fill the vacancies of jobs that no americans wanted. Many women arrived in large cities like New York only to learn that they could not change employers, residence, or even go back home to their families until they had lived/ worked out a contract with an employer who controlled their every move. So decades after the 1873 abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico, young women found themselves as indentured servants in the "land of the free". Farmers in Puerto Rico were forced to sell their land to foreign corporations because they could not compete with the rich invaders. As a single mom, Lolita Lebron was forced to leave her child with her family and move to New York City to try to survive.

With the Korean War in the works, the u.s. found yet another "job" for Boricuas and again began drafting Puerto Rican men into the military. Draft resisters were arrested, including one of Lolita's nationalist comrades, Rafael Cancel Miranda. Meanwhile, in New York, Lolita, endured abusive sweatshop labor, even sewing patches onto the military uniforms of uncle sam’s army. She, like Albizu before her who had served in the u.s. military, also came face to face with american racism and segregation. Signs that read "No Blacks, no dogs, no Puerto Ricans" were a common sight for Lolita. Outraged by these injustices, she gravitated towards the Nationalist movement and began to correspond with Pedro Albizu Campos who was in prison at the time, accused of plotting an assassination attempt on the life of u.s. president Harry Truman in 1950.

During his incarceration, Albizu Campos was subjected to radiation experiments by the u.s. government. Unable to withstand the radiation attacks, his body succumbed to illness. The attacks inflicted on their leader further convinced the Nationalists to advance their work to break free from imperial oppression. During her communications with Albizu, it was decided that Lolita would lead the next mission against the oppressor.

Having sent Rafael Cancel Miranda to Washington DC in advance to gather information, Lolita planned each detail of how the event was to be carried out. Never expecting to make it out alive, the four Nationalists purchased one-way tickets to Washington. They would give their lives to bring their colonial condition to the global forefront, expressing that the new "commonwealth" status of 1952 was not the rightful freedom Puerto Rico deserved.

On March 1st, 1954, with the u.s. House of Representatives in session, Lolita gave the order to fire just as the Nationalists unfurled the Puerto Rican flag. The session was brought to a screeching halt as shots rang out and several bullets ricocheted injuring some of the House members. The Nationalists declared their intention to sacrifice themselves for the cause of liberating the Puerto Rican nation. They did not kill anyone, as that was not their goal, and were instead captured by the u.s. authorities. Lolita received a sentence of 57 years in prison. Five days later in Puerto Rico, Albizu Campos was also arrested in retaliation for the Nationalist attack on the u.s. congress. Puerto Rican puppet Governor Muñoz Marín chose to revoke a pardon that Albizu had been granted due to his illness and an international outcry for his release. It was on March 6th that the police invaded Albizu's
home, resulting in a shoot-out with Nationalist women who were caring for and protecting Albizu. After shots and tear gas were emptied into the home, the half conscious leader was carried out under police custody. Imprisoned yet again, and unable to ever recover from the radiation attacks, his condition worsened. With his deteriorating health, he was pardoned yet again in 1965, for fear that an untimely death of the Nationalist leader while in prison would incite another wave of retaliatory violence. Don Pedro Albizu Campos died just three months after his release.

In 1979, almost 15 years after Albizu’s death, and 25 years after the Nationalist attack on the u.s congress, u.s. president Jimmy Carter extended an unconditional pardon to Lolita and her two remaining comrades Rafael Cancel Miranda and Irving Flores Rodriguez. (Andres Figueroa Cordero had succumbed to cancer years earlier). Also released at that time was Oscar Collazo, who had been in prison since the 1950 assassination attempt on Truman. The cycle of political repression continued however when in the year, following the release of the Nationalists, another group of Puerto Rican freedom fighters, members of las Fuerzas Armadas De Liberación Nacional (FALN), were arrested and charged with “attempting to overthrow the U.S. government”. Three of those individuals, Haydee Beltrán, Oscar Lopez Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres are now going on their 26th year of incarceration.

Today Lolita Lebron, along with her comrade in arms Rafael Cancel Miranda, continues to fight for Puerto Rican self-determination and liberation. At 86 years of age, Lolita still believes that armed struggle is the right of an oppressed people who have exhausted every other possibility to attain their freedom. Her commitment to the cause of Puerto Rican liberation has remained steadfast and strong, as with her participation in actions to get to the u.s. navy out of Vieques. In 2001 she served more prison time for actions against the u.s. navy. Lolita’s recent public attack against the u.s. criticized their cowardly FBI assassination of Ejercito Popular Boricua-Los Macheteros’ Commander, Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Shot and left to bleed to death on September 23rd, 2005, the attack on Filiberto resulted in thousands of Puerto Ricans taking to the streets to rage, scream and scrawl
anti-colonial slogans and burn american flags. It was a Grito de Lares commemoration like no other. Among the crowds was the fearless elder Lolita Lebron. On the street, in front of news cameras, she advised the people to fight strategically against the imperialist who seeks to silence us and defeat us. Marking a watershed in the Puerto Rican liberation struggle Lolita proclaimed: “Now, definitively, we must liberate Puerto Rico. It is indisputable!”


Casimire said...

Reminds me of when the Black Panthers marched into the Capitol in Sacramento. No one makes any statements anymore!

Morgan said...

Yeah, or Angela Davis who I have admired and loved for all these years. Casimire, you are a good one.

Casimire said...

There is an Author Isabel Allende I think is right up your alley! I saw a wonderful speech by her on TED, Google her I'm sure will come up! Casimire