On March 1st, 1954, Rafael Cancel Miranda, alongside three other Puerto Rican Nationalists, opened fire in the U.S. House of Representatives, calling for the island’s independence, and injuring five congressmen before being arrested.

Puerto Rican Nationalists moments after opening fire in the House of Representatives on March 1, 1954. From left to right: Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda and Andrés Figueroa Cordero. Photo courtesy of the Cancel Vázquez family.

The other three Nationalists were Lolita Lebrón, Irvin Flores Rodríguez and Andrés Figueroa Cordero. They stormed the Capitol in the hopes of bringing attention to Puerto Rico’s political status, which they believed was tantamount to an occupied colony.

Puerto Rican Nationalists (seated) with their attorneys (standing). From left to right: Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores, Lolita Lebrón, and Andrés Figueroa Cordero, soon after the March 1, 1954 attack. Photo courtesy of the Cancel Vázquez family.

No one was killed, but the three men were sentenced to more than 75 years each, while Lebrón was sentenced to 50 years. Each served 25 years before President Jimmy Carter, alleging “humane considerations” commuted their sentences in 1979.

Rafael Cancel Miranda died in 2020, and was the last surviving member of the group.

At StoryCorps, Cancel Miranda’s wife, María de los Ángeles Vázquez and their son, Rafael Cancel Vázquez reflected on his legacy.

Rafael Cancel Miranda on a 7-hour furlough from prison to attend his father’s funeral in Puerto Rico, in August 1977. Photo courtesy of the Cancel Vázquez family.


Top Photo: María de los Ángeles Vázquez and Rafael Cancel Vázquez at their StoryCorps interview in San Juan, Puerto Rico on February 3, 2024. By Von Diaz for StoryCorps.


This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired March 1, 2024, on NPR’s Morning Edition.