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Lolita Lebron, jailed for gun attack at U.S. Capitol in 1954, dies at 90

Capitol police hold Lolita Lebron and two others in custody on March 1, 1954, after they opened fire from the House gallery.
Capitol police hold Lolita Lebron and two others in custody on March 1, 1954, after they opened fire from the House gallery. (Associated Press)
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The attack came four years after a failed attempt by Puerto Rican nationalists to assassinate Truman. It gave Ms. Lebron a place among the most famous of Latin American revolutionary figures, including Che Guevara and Pancho Villa.

"I am a revolutionary," she said at the time. "I hate bombs, but we might have to use them."

Lolita Lebron was born Nov. 19, 1919, in Lares, a Puerto Rican village where, in 1868, local men rose up against Spanish colonists in a legendary rebellion known as El Grito de Lares, "the cry of Lares."

Her father was a coffee farmer and her mother was a homemaker. Ms. Lebron, crowned "Queen of the Flowers of May" as a teenager, left Puerto Rico for a better life in New York in 1940. She left behind a baby daughter, who later died. Ms. Lebron's granddaughter is writer Irene Vilar. A complete list of survivors could not be confirmed.

Working as a seamstress in the garment district, Ms. Lebron lived in grinding poverty and found herself the object of racial discrimination. "They told me it was a paradise," Ms. Lebron said in a Washington Post interview in 2004. "This was no paradise."

She began corresponding with Harvard-educated Puerto Rican nationalist Pedro Albizu Campos after he was jailed for his part in the 1950 plot against Truman. Albizu Campos reputedly tapped Ms. Lebron to lead the siege against Congress as a last-ditch effort for independence.

Ms. Lebron in turn inspired other nationalists to violence. Between 1974 and 1983, Puerto Rico's Armed Forces of National Liberation set off dozens of bombs in Chicago and New York, killing six people and injuring more than 100.

But the independence movement did not gain momentum in Puerto Rico. When voters were asked in 1998 whether they wanted the island to become a state or an independent nation or retain their semiautonomous status, the prevailing response was "none of the above." Independence won 2.5 percent of the vote.

Renouncing violence

After returning home to Puerto Rico, Ms. Lebron became a symbol of nationalist pride. She continued to protest U.S. involvement on the island, but she renounced violence, saying her change of heart was rooted in religious revelations she had while she was in jail.

In 2001, she was arrested at age 81 while protesting the U.S. military's use of Vieques, a neighboring Caribbean island, as a bombing range. She was sentenced to 60 days in jail for trespassing. The bombing range was later closed.

Her pledge of nonviolence was tested in 2005 when the FBI shot and killed Filiberto Ojeda Rios, the Puerto Rican leader of a paramilitary pro-independence group. Ojeda Rios was wanted in connection with the 1983 robbery of an armored-truck depot in Connecticut. As angry crowds gathered in the streets, Ms. Lebron spoke out.

"She had a tremendous impact," Juan Manuel Garcia Passalacqua told the Chicago Tribune in 2006. "Young people were protesting in the streets, and there was talk of getting revenge. But Lolita told people, 'No violence!' -- and there was none."

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