Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cuba: Laura Pollan, the Ladies in White - Freedom, Not Exile ...


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"Ladies in White" Will March On

Saturday, October 15, 2011
From Reuters:

Late "Ladies in White" leader Laura Pollan was remembered on Saturday with a simple altar in her home in the crumbling Central Havana neighborhood and vows that the dissident group she founded would go on.

The Ladies in White, saying Cuba still has political prisoners, have continued their marches and will do so again this Sunday and into the future, said Berta Soler, Pollan's longtime co-leader of the group.

"We're going to continue our peaceful fight for the liberation of all political prisoners. We'll also continue defending the human rights of the Cuban people," vowed Soler, speaking in the hushed, grief-stricken ambience of Pollan's wake.

"We plan to march tomorrow on Fifth Avenue like we do every Sunday. It will be a special march for Laura," she said.

Pollan's husband, Hector Maseda, told the women they must not stop, despite the loss of his wife.

"You have to keep going as you have until now, with intelligence, not accepting provocations. You have become a dagger in the middle of the heart of the government," he said.

White House Statement on Laura Pollan

From The White House:

The President's thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends, and colleagues of Laura Pollan, the founder of Las Damas de Blanco, who passed away Friday in Havana. Pollán and the quiet dignity of the Ladies in White have courageously voiced the core desire of the Cuban people and of people everywhere to live in liberty.

Through their brave actions, the Ladies in White draw attention to the plight of those who are unjustly held in Cuba's prisons and pushed Cuban authorities to release those political prisoners wrongly jailed in the Spring of 2003.

Since the beginning of the Administration we have worked to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their future and Cuba's future. We will continue that work in Pollan's memory.

Honoring a True Lady

Last night, the leader of The Ladies in White, Laura Pollan, died in Havana.

Her friends and colleagues have gathered to honor her memory and struggle.


Sadly, the Castro regime immediately began repressive operations against pro-democracy activists in the central and eastern provinces of Cuba to prevent them from attending the memorial services.

Five Ladies in White have already been arrested.

They are Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, Aimeé Garcés Leiva, Caridad Caballero, Isabel Torres and Tania Montoya Vázquez.


The heroic legacy of Laura Pollan is just beginning.

Cuba: Laura Pollan, Ladies In White Founder, Mourned

Laura Pollen
ANDREA RODRIGUEZ   10/15/11 03:16 PM ET   AP
HAVANA -- Cuba's tiny dissident community gathered on Saturday to mourn the loss of one of its most prominent leaders, Ladies in White founder and leader Laura Pollan, who for years made her home a headquarters for planning protests against the communist government.
Family members, government opponents and diplomats gathered at Pollan's house in a working-class neighborhood of Havana, welcomed by her widower, formerly imprisoned dissident Hector Maseda. The U.S. Interests Section in Cuba brought a floral wreath.
"We have had a physical loss. It's not easy especially for me, because we have been together these past eight years," said Bertha Soler, who helped Pollan found the group in 2003 to press for the release of their husbands and 73 other activists, social commentators and government opponents imprisoned in a crackdown on dissent.
Pollan, 63, died Friday night of cardiorespiratory failure, a week after being hospitalized with an aggressive respiratory virus. Family members reported that Pollan's doctors tried for nearly an hour to revive her.
"They acquitted themselves well. Professionally they are very capable," Maseda said.
In the front living room, which for years was decorated with portraits of Maseda and 74 other dissidents jailed in 2003, only a painting of Pollan was on display Saturday surrounded by flowers, a rosary and candles. The last of the dissidents, including Maseda, were released earlier this year under a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church.
Pollan's body was cremated before dawn. Half the ashes were taken to her birth city of Manzanillo in eastern Cuba, and the rest were in the Havana home.
"We are going to do what she wished ... and scatter her ashes in a flowery field," Maseda said.
Pollan was one of the most prominent and vocal opposition figures in a country where those who dissent publicly risk reprisals or imprisonment. Even after the Ladies accomplished the goal for which they were founded, the group continued to protest against the government, which excoriated the women as traitors doing the bidding of the United States.
Soler, considered the group's No. 2 leader despite its avowed nonhierarchical organization, said the Ladies will continue their weekly protest marches following Sunday Mass, dressed in white and carrying gladiolas.
"Everything will continue as always, without the physical presence of Laura Pollan, but spiritually she will be with us," Soler said. "Tomorrow we will go to the Church of Santa Rita as we have been doing for eight years."
In Washington, the White House issued a statement praising Pollan and her group.
"The President's thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends, and colleagues of Laura Pollan, the founder of Las Damas de Blanco, who passed away Friday in Havana," it said. "Pollan and the quiet dignity of the Ladies in White have courageously voiced the core desire of the Cuban people and of people everywhere to live in liberty."
There was no mention of Pollan's death in Cuban state media, which normally ignores dissidents' activity except to accuse them of being stooges of Washington.
But the pro-government blog La Pupila Insomne noted her passing and said the doctor who attended her, Armando Elias Gonzalez Rivera, confirmed that she suffered from a viral attack.
Condolences also came from the Cuban exile community in Miami, where a Mass was announced for later Saturday in Pollan's honor.
Cuban-American singer and actor Gloria Estefan called Pollan "the personification of the strength of the Cuban woman" and "a shining example of courage, peace and perseverance that will serve as a guide to those who struggle for a free Cuba."
___
Associated Press writers Peter Orsi in Havana and Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami contributed to this report.

Cuba's Ladies in White mourn leader, vow to go on

HAVANA (Reuters) - Late "Ladies in White" leader Laura Pollan was remembered on Saturday with a simple altar in her home in the crumbling Central Havana neighborhood and vows that the dissident group she founded would go on.
A blue vase holding the ashes of Pollan, who died on Friday after a brief illness, sat on a small table with several photos of her and flowers brought by friends who included diplomats.
Some of Cuba's most prominent dissidents attended the wake, where they grieved for the former school teacher who became one of Cuba's top opposition voices as she led the Ladies in White with a fearless defiance of the Cuban government.
In contrast to other turbulent moments when her group was harassed by pro-government mobs, the streets outside her home were quiet, with life going on as usual.
Leaders of the communist island have said nothing about her death, but in Washington White House Press Secretary Jay Carney praised Pollan and her group for having "courageously voiced the core desire of the Cuban people and of people everywhere to live in liberty."
"Since the beginning of the (Obama) administration we have worked to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their future and Cuba's future. We will continue that work in Pollan's memory," he said.
Pollan led the founding of the Ladies in White after 75 dissidents, including her husband Hector Maseda, were imprisoned in a March 2003 government crackdown known as Havana's Black Spring.
Dressed in white and each carrying a single white flower, the women defied government pressure by staging silent marches every Sunday on one of Havana's main avenues demanding the release of their loved ones. At the end of each march, they shouted in unison "libertad," or freedom.
Public protests were unheard of at the time and remain a rarity today in tightly controlled Cuba, where the government views dissidents as mercenaries for the United States, its longtime enemy that works closely with dissidents to promote political change.
MARCHES WILL CONTINUE
Last year, after international condemnation for the death of an imprisoned dissident who staged a long hunger strike, President Raul Castro relented and released 115 political prisoners, including those from the 2003 crackdown, in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church.
The Ladies in White, saying Cuba still has political prisoners, have continued their marches and will do so again this Sunday and into the future, said Berta Soler, Pollan's longtime co-leader of the group.
"We're going to continue our peaceful fight for the liberation of all political prisoners. We'll also continue defending the human rights of the Cuban people," vowed Soler, speaking in the hushed, grief-stricken ambience of Pollan's wake.
"We plan to march tomorrow on Fifth Avenue like we do every Sunday. It will be a special march for Laura," she said.
Pollan's husband, Hector Maseda, told the women they must not stop, despite the loss of his wife.
"You have to keep going as you have until now, with intelligence, not accepting provocations. You have become a dagger in the middle of the heart of the government," he said.
Despite the vows to go on, Pollan will not be easy to replace.
Under her leadership, the Ladies in White were awarded the 2005 Sakharov award for human rights from the European Parliament, named for late Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov, and have been considered candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize.
"She was a person who gave her life over to fighting for the fundamental cause of human rights. (Her death) has been an irreparable loss," said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights.
Pollan died of cardiac arrest in a Havana hospital where she had been treated since October 7 for a pulmonary illness.
Some of her supporters had raised questions about whether she had received good medical care in Cuba's state-run medical system, but Maseda praised the medical team attending her and said "they tried to save my wife' life until the last minute."
Maseda said some of her ashes would be placed in a crypt in her hometown of Manzanillo in the southeastern province of Granma and others scattered in a field of flowers, as she had once requested.
(Writing by Jeff Franks; editing by xxx)