Carmelo Ruiz: Remembering the 1954 Puerto Rican Attack on Washington
On March 1, 1954, Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irvin Flores and Andrés Figueroa walked into the U.S. House of Representatives building and began shooting. They fired thirty shots and wounded five U.S. Representatives. They were arrested and spent 25 years in prison. The purpose of their armed attack was to call the world's attention to the colonial plight of Puerto Rico and the U.S. government´s repression against its independence movement.
Puerto Rico has been occupied by the United States since the U.S. war with Spain in 1898. Since then, the U.S. Congress has exercised sovereignty over the island nation. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but the island's residents have no voice or vote in Congress and cannot vote in presidential elections.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party called for independence, leading the opposition against the U.S. occupation. The Puerto Rican government — then headed by U.S. governors appointed by the president of the United States — responded to the party's actions with repression, culminating in the Rio Piedras and Ponce massacres, in 1935 and 1937 respectively. In the latter incident, a peaceful march of Nationalists, or members of the Nationalist Party, was fired upon by the police, resulting in 19 deaths and over 100 injuries. It was described by the American Civil Liberties Union as “cold-blooded murder.” In response, members of the Nationalist Party turned to armed struggle, assassinating U.S. counterinsurgency specialist Francis Riggs, and attempting to shoot governor Blanton Winship, who had ordered the Ponce massacre.