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On September 10, 1979 (33 years ago today) President Jimmy Carter granted clemency to four Puerto Rican nationalists who had been imprisoned for an attack on the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954. Four days earlier he had commuted the sentence of a man convicted of the attempted assassination of President Harry Truman in 1950.

Oscar Collazo was the Puerto Rican independence activist who attempted to assassinate President Harry S. Truman on November 1, 1950. On the previous day, Collazo and Griselio Torresola arrived at Union Station in Washington, D.C. and registered in the Harris Hotel. The next day, the two armed men, attempted to enter the Blair House with the intention of assassinating the President. Truman was residing there while the White House was being renovated. During the attack one White House police officer, Private Leslie Coffelt, was killed and multiple others wounded. Torresola was killed by the mortally wounded Coffelt, and Collazo was shot in the chest and arrested.

In prison, Collazo was asked why he had targeted Truman, who was in favor of self-determination for Puerto Rico and who had appointed the first native-born Puerto Rican governor. Collazo replied that he had nothing against Truman, saying that Truman was "a symbol of the system. You don't attack the man, you attack the system."

In 1952, Collazo was sentenced to death, but President Truman commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. He was sent to the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. His original death sentence was commuted by Truman himself. Collazo's sentence was commuted to time served by President Jimmy Carter on September 6, 1979, after spending 29 years in jail. Collazo had been eligible for parole since April 1966.

President Carter also commuted the sentences of Collazo's fellow nationalists Irving Flores, Rafael Cancel Miranda, and Lolita Lebrón. On the morning of March 1, the group arrived at the United States Capitol. Miranda suggested that the attack should be postponed because it was late and rainy. Lebrón was determined to proceed alone, so the others followed. When the group reached the visitor's gallery above the chamber in the House, they sat while the representatives discussed Mexico's economy. Shortly thereafter, Lebrón gave the order to the other members, the group quickly recited the Lord's Prayer; then Lebrón stood up and shouted "¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre!" ("Long live a Free Puerto Rico!") and unfurled the flag of Puerto Rico.

The group opened fire with automatic pistols. Lebrón claimed that she fired her shots at the ceiling. Figueroa's pistol jammed. Some 30 shots were fired (mostly by Cancel, according to his account), wounding five lawmakers. Representative Alvin Bentley from Michigan, was seriously wounded in the chest. Upon being arrested, Lebrón yelled "I did not come to kill anyone, I came to die for Puerto Rico!".

Carter commuted the sentences of Lebrón, Flores, and Miranda after they had served 25 years in prison. Andrés Figueroa Cordero was released from prison earlier because of a terminal illness. The Governor of Puerto Rico, Carlos Romero Barceló, publicly opposed the pardons granted by Carter, stating that it would encourage terrorism and undermine public safety. Lebrón received a heroine's welcome by her supporters upon her return to her motherland.


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