I would like to discuss an attack on the U.S. Capitol in this column—not the one that occurred on January 6, 2021, but the shooting of U.S. congressmen by Puerto Rican nationalists in the House of Representatives chamber in 1954. Though smaller in scale than the 2021 attack, the incident was still shocking, especially the fact that active members of Congress were struck by live bullets.
Before getting into the attack itself, I’ll briefly summarize the history between Puerto Rico and the United States that led to the shooting. Puerto Rico had been a Spanish colony for about 400 years since 1508, but in 1898, amid the movement for independence of South American countries, an autonomous Puerto Rican government was finally established. This independence, however, did not last long. During the Spanish-American War, American troops occupied the island, and afterwards, in 1900, Spain “gave” Puerto Rico to the United States. Puerto Rico then became a part of the United States under a status in which residents receive American citizenship but are not allowed to elect members of the federal government. Later, in 1948, a law was passed that strictly forbade any moves leading to Puerto Rican independence. In response to this repressive U.S. approach, pro-independence groups staged protests in various parts of Puerto Rico, but all were violently suppressed. In November that year, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate then-President Truman. The resulting fierce firefight saw one police officer on guard duty and one of the attackers hit by bullets.