On Sunday, at the age of 90, Dolores Lebron, know as "Lolita," passed away. She was a legendary freedom fighter to some, a terrorist to others. But no one can debate that she had an impact on U.S.-Puerto Rican history.
In 1954, Lebron led an attack from the Ladies' Gallery of the U.S. Capitol, where she and three others fired shots as Congress was in session. They left five congressmen injured. For this, they served 25 years in prison until many Puerto Ricans and supporters successfully campaigned for their pardon by President Jimmy Carter.
Lebron and company said the attack was prompted by the United States' domination of Puerto Rico. And while that attack took place more than 50 years ago, the U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship remains a source of deep contention.
On paper, Puerto Rico is known as a commonwealth of the United States and its residents are U.S. citizens. But in reality, they are subjected to political and economic segregation – from substandard health benefits for Puerto Rico's military veterans, to being barred from voting in the U.S. presidential election, to the imposition of antiquated federal maritime laws that hinder the island's economic growth.
Puerto Ricans who favor a status change – to statehood, an enhanced commonwealth or independence – all realize that there must be some shift for the island. To that end, the democratic process that Puerto Rico never received – the right to choose its own destiny – should no longer be denied.
There was recent movement in the U.S. House of Representatives around a bill to introduce a referendum on the island's status. But, as with other legislation before, a decision by the Puerto Rican people would be nonbinding on Congress.
This political merry-go-round leaves Puerto Rico at square one and Congress shirking its responsibility to four million citizens.
The persistent state of no-resolution may be convenient to some, but it shortchanges Puerto Rico, results in the significant out-migration of islanders and highlights the glaring contradiction of a nation engaged in promoting democracy abroad but not in its own backyard.