No 'Terrorist' Label for Shooter of 5 Congressmen, 'Hailed' by Some as 'Revolutionary Hero'
Tuesday the Times ran an obituary for Lolita Lebron, who gained infamy in 1954 when she led three other Puerto Rican nationalists firing pistols from the visitor's gallery of the House of Representatives, wounding five congressmen. Yet the Times was reluctant to label the instigators of this terrorist attack "terrorists": "Lolita Lebron, Puerto Rican Nationalist, Dies at 90."
Douglas Martin wrote:
Lolita Lebrón, who blazed her way to notoriety with a Luger pistol and patriotic shouts as she led three other Puerto Rican nationalists in an attack on the United States House of Representatives on March 1, 1954, died Sunday in San Juan, P.R. She was 90.
The cause was heart and lung failure, said Linda Alonso Lebrón, her niece.
In the attack in the Capitol, Ms. Lebrón and the other assailants fired from a spectator's gallery just above the House floor, raining as many as 30 bullets into a chaotic chamber and wounding five congressmen.
Yet Martin didn't label Lebron a terrorist, merely said she was "widely condemned as a terrorist," before saying that many think of her and her partners in attempted assassination as leftist "revolutionary heroes."
Ms. Lebrón was imprisoned for 25 years and widely condemned as a terrorist, although proponents of Puerto Rican independence hailed her and her associates as revolutionary heroes. She ascended into a leftist pantheon with figures like Che Guevara, becoming the subject of books and artwork.
Ms. Lebrón always said she remained proud of the shooting, which came two years after Puerto Rico, formerly a territory of the United States, had become a commonwealth. She dismissed that status as only more colonization and demanded complete independence. On the day of the shooting, she said she had fully expected to give up her life.
Her political convictions never disappeared. In her 80s, she was arrested twice for protesting an American military base on Puerto Rico's island of Vieques. She served 60 days in jail.
Interesting how times (and Times) change. Here are three Times headlines from the period describing her acts bluntly, and accurately:
WOMAN TERRORIST FREED OF 'INTENT' - June 18, 1954
TERRORIST SOUGHT TO 'DIE' FOR COUNTRY - June 12, 1954
TERRORIST ANNOYED BY 'SLIGHT' TO FLAG - June 8, 1954