“No other woman in the Hemisphere has been in prison on such charges for so long a period (as Lolita Lebrón); a fact which Communist critics of your human rights policy are fond of pointing out.”
—National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski in a secret memo to President Jimmy Carter (1979)
When early American revolutionaries chanted, “Give me liberty or give me death” and complained of having but one life to give for their country, they became the enduring heroes of our (sic) history textbooks.
Thanks to the power of the U.S. media and education industries, the Puerto Rican nationalists who just as passionately dedicated their lives to the cause of independence are known as criminals, fanatics, and terrorists.
Case in point: Lolita Lebrón.
“Free Puerto Rico!”
On March 1, 1954, in the gallery of the House of Representatives, Congressman Charles A. Halleck rose to discuss with his colleagues the issue of Puerto Rico. At that moment, Lolita Lebrón alongside three fellow freedom fighters, having purchased a one-way train ticket from New York (they expected to be killed) unfurled a Puerto Rican flag and shouted “Free Puerto Rico!” before firing eight shots at the roof.
Her male co-conspirators aimed their machine guns at the legislators. Andrés Figueroa’s gun jammed, but shots fired by Rafael Cancel Miranda and Irving Flores injured five congressmen.
In her purse, Lebrón carried a note that read: “My life I give for the freedom of my country,” the note read. “The United States of America are betraying the sacred principles of mankind in their continuous subjugation of my country.”
“I know that the shots I fired neither killed nor wounded anymore,” Lebrón stated (accurately) afterwards, but with the attack being viewed through the sensationalizing prism of American tabloid journalism, this did not matter. She and her nationalist cohorts became prisoners of war for the next 25 years.
Why prisoners of war? To answer that, we must recall that since July 25, 1898, when the United States illegally invaded its tropical neighbor under the auspices of the Spanish-American War, the island has been maintained as a colony.
In other words, the planet’s oldest colony is being held by its oldest representative democracy (sic) — with U.S. citizenship imposed without the consent or approval of the indigenous population in 1917. It is from this geopolitical paradox that the Puerto Rican independence movement sprang forth.
This movement is based firmly on international law, which authorizes “anti-colonial combatants” the right to armed struggle to throw off the yoke of imperialism and gain independence.
UN General Assembly Resolution 33/24 of December 1978 recognizes “the legitimacy of the struggle of people’s for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial domination and foreign occupation by all means available, particularly armed struggle.”
Translation: We are being lied to… every minute of every day.
A quarter-century in prison did not dampen Lolita Lebrón’s revolutionary spirit. Upon her release and right up to her death in 2010, she attended demonstrations and relentlessly spoke out for justice. For example, Lebrón was part of the long and successful battle to eject the U.S. Navy (and its depleted uranium) from the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2003.
As activists, we must rediscover our history. We must never forget those whose shoulders we stand upon. We must recognize that there’s a lot more to our revolutionary heritage than rich and/or charismatic (usually white) male “leaders.” We must embrace collective efforts towards collective liberation.
Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on a couple of obscure websites called Facebook and Twitter. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.