"Viva Puerto Rico Libre!": Puerto Rican Nationalist Lolita Lebron Dies at Age 90

Lolita Lebron, the Puerto Rican independence activist best known for her role in an attack on the U.S. Capitol, died of complications from respiratory disease in a hospital in San Juan this Sunday. She was 90.

“Lolita was the mother of the independence movement," Maria Lourdes Santiago, a member of the U.S. commonwealth’s Senate from the Puerto Rican Independence Party told the Associated Press. "This is an insurmountable loss."

Lebron was born Nov. 19, 1919, in Lares, Puerto Rico. She left home in search of a better life in New York in the 1940s. It’s here that she developed nationalistic views and became a follower of Harvard-educated nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campo. In 1954, Lebron was sentenced to more than 50 years in prison after she and three other nationalists released 29 shots into the House chambers. "Viva Puerto Rico libre!" Lebron shouted during the shooting. Five lawmakers were struck, including one who was hit in the chest.  

Expecting to be killed, Lebron prepared a note, which police found in her purse. "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."

President Carter granted them clemency and Lebron was released in 1979 after serving 25 years in prison. She returned to Puerto Rico, where she continued her political activism—taking a more non-violent approach. Still, she was arrested in 2001, at age 81, when she and five others cut through a fence in neighboring Vieques while protesting a 1999 death of a civilian security guard during a U.S. Navy training exercise, which led to a 60 days in jail for trespassing.

A full list of survivors is yet to be confirmed, but her granddaughter is writer Irene Vilar.