In the years following World War II the colonized nations who had fought and died alongside the imperial Allied powers began seeking independence and Puerto Rico was no exception. The US government was not interested in giving up Puerto Rico but it also didn’t want to be seen as a colonial power in the eyes of the world. In 1947 the US Congress passed a law allowing Puerto Ricans the ability to vote for their own governor. As the US Congress allowed Puerto Ricans the right to vote for their own governor they passed a gag law in 1948 known as Ley de la Mordaza. It made flying or displaying the Puerto Rican flag illegal and barred anyone from speaking, printing, publishing, organizing or advocating for independence. In 1949 Luis Muñoz Marin was elected the first Puerto Rican governor. The leader of the Nationalist Party Don Pedro Albizu Campos saw this governorship as a means of having Puerto Ricans administer US colonial interests.
As governor Luis Muñoz Marin immediately endorsed a proposal known as “Free Associated State” to try to get as much autonomy for the island as possible. “Free Associated State” granted some autonomy over Puerto Rico but nowhere near complete autonomy. Albizu Campos, the Nationalists Party and other independence supporters all agreed that “Free Associated State” simply put a Puerto Rican face on US colonialism. In response to all these developments Albizu Campos and the Nationalists Party began to plan an island wide insurrection. On October 30th of 1950 in the towns of Jayuya, Utuado, Arecibo, Ponce, San Juan, Mayagüez, Naranjito and Peñuelas there was an open armed revolution to rid Puerto Rico of the US imperialism it had suffered under since the Spanish American War of 1898. The revolution failed and Albizu and hundreds of other Nationalists were rounded up and arrested.
In 1952 the US Congress ratified “Free Associated State” status for Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico has existed in this very confusing and very nebulous state since then. While in prison for his role in calling for and leading the revolution of 1950, Albizu began writing a young Puerto Rican Nationalist woman named Lolita Lebron. In that correspondence he asked Lolita to lead an attack on the US Congress. She accepted the mission and along with Raphael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores and Andrès Figueroa she led an attack on the US Congress on March 1st of 1954. The date was chosen because it was the first day of the Interamerican Conference in Caracas, Venezuela and the attack was meant to draw international attention to Puerto Rico’s plight as a US colony especially to the Latin American nations meeting in Caracas.
Lolita, Rafa, Irving and Andrés got into the visitor’s galley of the Congress as it was in session. Lolita unfurled a Puerto Rican flag and screamed “¡Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre!” – Long Live A Free Puerto Rico! then the group shot into the Congress. Five Congressmen were wounded in the attack and the four Nationalists were captured. When Lolita was asked if it was her intention to kill she replied, “I didn’t come to kill, I came to die.”
Lolita, Rafa, Irving and Andrés all served 25 years in prison for the attack. At that time Lolita Lebron was the longest held female political prisoner in the world, a fact that did not go unnoticed during the Cold War. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter pardoned the Lolita Lebron and the other Nationalists after and a long and lengthy international campaign to free them. Carlos Romero Barceló the then governor of Puerto Rico was opposed to the pardon claiming that it would only encourage further acts of “terrorism” on the Puerto Rican government and US interests on the island. When the Nationalists returned home they were received as national heroes, much to Barceló’s chagrin.
Throughout the history of Puerto Rico’s long and complex colonial relationship with the US government there have been many of these uprisings that, at the time of these actions, seem to receive very little support from Puerto Ricans. Yet the Puerto Rican people have always supported their political prisoners and have had an outstanding track record of garnering global support for them that has brought pressure to bear on the US government to free Puerto Rican political prisoners time and time again. If Puerto Ricans don’t want independence from the US then why do they want independence for the political prisoners and prisoners of war who fight to free Puerto Rico from US colonialism?
There have also historically always been massive outpourings of support for these independence leaders when they die. Many Puerto Ricans agreed with the ideas of the Filiberto Ojeda Rios, the independence leader assassinated by the FBI in 2005, even if they didn’t agree with his decision to use violence as a means of expressing those ideas. Puerto Ricans felt that Filiberto was worthy of their admiration. Filiberto’s funeral procession was the longest in Puerto Rican history. The same could be said for Lolita Lebron. When she passed away in August of 2010 it wasn’t only the so-called minority of Puerto Rican’s who want independence that mourned her passing but the whole Puerto Rico nation that mourned. It was also the Puerto Rican diaspora that mourned as well as the international community that has always supported Puerto Rico’s independence. Many will say that the violent actions taken by Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores and Andrés Figueroa on March 1st of 1954 can’t advance the cause of Puerto Rican independence but history has proven that this argument doesn’t hold up…
The images of Lolita Lebron above are available as T-shirt’s and as 1″ button from my design company RICANSTRUCTED. There are other designs that can be found there of other Puerto Rican independence leaders there as well… You don’t need to believe in Puerto Rican independence to wear a shirt with an independence leader on it like you don’t have to be Argentinian or Cuban to wear a Che T-shirt… Show your support for the independence of Puerto Rico and get yourself a RICANSTRUCTED shirt…