Este informe no está disponible en español.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Vieques Advocate Turns From Violence Of Her Past
by DAVID GONZALEZ
June 18, 2001
PHOTO Alex Quesada for The New York Times
Lolita Lebrón, who spent 25 years in prison for an armed attack in Congress, says she has replaced violence with civil disobedience.
VIEQUES, P.R., June 17 A white-haired woman sat at a picnic table at the makeshift village where protesters gather every day to plan strategy against the Navy's military maneuvers here. Not far from her was a sign that spelled out the rules, including "Zero Violence."
The woman agreed with that, even if nearly a half-century ago she symbolized the opposite. On March 1, 1954, the woman, Lolita Lebrón, and three fellow Puerto Rican nationalists went to the visitors' gallery of the United States House of Representatives and opened fire, wounding five congressmen. The nationalists spent 25 years in federal prisons until President Jimmy Carter granted them clemency in 1979.
Though Puerto Rico's independence movement is small, Mrs. Lebrón is a hero for many Puerto Ricans who want the Navy to stop its bombing practice and leave Vieques immediately, not in May 2003, as President Bush announced last week.
Mrs. Lebrón, 82, said in an interview this weekend that she had renounced violence but that she continued to speak out against the role of the United States in Puerto Rico, which was given to the United States as part of the spoils of the Spanish- American War.
"You are talking with a woman of peace," Mrs. Lebrón said. "We were in jail for a quarter-century. We met our obligations. We feel honored to have defended the nation," she said, referring to Puerto Rico. "Yet we have a new strategy for liberation. We are using civil disobedience."
She says she belongs to no political party. "I am an individual," she said. "My choice is God. The people of Puerto Rico regardless of their political ideology are united in getting the Navy out of Vieques, but through civil disobedience."
More than a generation ago, she followed another directive, that of Pedro Albizu Campos, the Harvard- educated leader of the independence party who she said ordered the attack in Congress, which she saw as a last resort to draw attention to Puerto Rico. To Mrs. Lebrón, it was no different than when the 13 colonies declared independence, she said.
"I lifted the gun and shouted `Free Puerto Rico Now!' " she recalled. "At that moment it was free, because we were shooting at what we had to. We did not want to kill anyone. We wanted to destroy those elements that were destroying us." In prison, she said, she reaffirmed her religious beliefs and turned away from violence. She had time to think about what led her to do what she did, and she insisted that her faith in the independence cause was unshaken. The Vieques protests, she said, are another demand for respect.
As she spoke, a woman rushed up and embraced her. "Excuse me," said the woman, María Velásquez. "I came from the mountain to find energy!" Ms. Velásquez said she stopped cooking the moment she heard Mrs. Lebrón was at the camp.
"For me, a hug from her gives me the strength I need," Ms. Velásquez said. "It gives me the spirit and speed to fight for what is mine. She signifies the women who are ready to show off their heart. Nobody can take that away from us."
But Mrs. Lebrón's presence here is seen by some as a sign that the protesters are using the Navy issue as a guise for a leftist political agenda that does not represent the majority of Puerto Ricans. Although a recent poll showed 61 percent of the population was against the Navy's use of Vieques for bombing practice, the independence party in several decades has drawn the support of only 10 percent of the population.
Mrs. Lebrón said the important thing was to be focused on the issue of Vieques first. At the same time, she, like others here, has dissected President Bush's reference to Puerto Rico whose residents are United States citizens as the United States' "friend and neighbor."
"We don't want to forget the campaign is for Vieques and we need to have people united in this," Mrs. Lebrón said. "But Bush also said we are friends and neighbors. He did not say we were citizens. We think that is a good step for the Puerto Rican nation. The United States is awakening to a reality it imposed here."
Her own reality, she says, is that of someone who has lived 82 years and not regretted a single day. She knows some people criticize her faith, others her politics and still others her past. She ponders a future where Puerto Rico will be on its own.
"I can't see all of it in my life," she said. "But I will see it because I believe in eternal life. I will see my people."