Fewer obstacles in Cubans' march for freedom
The ladies in white find less interference as they proclaim that 'love
for our (jailed) family members' has triumphed
By JEFF FRANKS, Reuters May 8, 2010 12:00 AM
Cuba's dissident Ladies in White staged their weekly protest march
without interference Sunday after the Cuban government dropped its
attempted clampdown on the group following intervention by the Catholic
It was a rare victory for a Cuban opposition group and followed clumsy
government efforts to shut down the women the previous two Sundays by
bringing in government supporters to harass them for hours with chants
As they have for seven years, the white-clad women emerged from mass at
the Santa Rita de Casias Catholic church and, with flowers in hand,
marched silently in Havana's upscale Miramar neighbourhood. There were
A scattering of Cubans looked on curiously as the 12 women walked along,
but there were no crowds of people waiting to surround and harass them.
The previous Sunday, a rough-looking group held the women at bay for
seven hours, shouting in their faces and at times making sexually
suggestive remarks and gestures.
The women have been marching since a 2003 government crackdown in which
75 dissidents, including husbands and sons of the Ladies in White, were
imprisoned. Most are still jailed.
The marches have been the only known public protests permitted by
authorities since the early 1960s.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega, head of the Cuban Catholic church, told reporters
he had asked the government not to repeat the "painful events" of the
past two Sundays. In the middle of last week, officials told him to
advise the ladies they could march as usual on Sunday, with some provisos.
"I can't say this enters into a new flexibility. I can say … it's very
good that such a gesture is made," said Ortega, standing in the church
attended by the women.
He said it was normal for the mothers and wives of imprisoned men to
seek their freedom. "They are people who in this sense deserve a
respect, a special consideration," said Ortega, who recently told a
Catholic publication that Cubans are impatient for change.
Cuba views its small dissident community as "mercenaries" working for
the United States and other enemies to topple the communist-led government.
The independent Cuban Human Rights Commission says the island has about
200 political prisoners, but in recent years has turned to short-term
detentions instead of long prison sentences to keep them under control.
Island leaders have been criticized internationally for the February
death of dissident hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo and its
treatment of the Ladies in White, who were harassed when they staged a
week of protests to mark the March anniversary of the 2003 crackdown.
The ladies' March protests, widely covered by the international media,
were followed by the government telling the women they must have a
permit to make the Sunday marches. The women refused to seek the
permits, which led to the recent confrontations.
Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan said the government's decision to
let them march was a "small victory," which she attributed to "tenacity,
perseverance, reason and, above all, love."
"Here, love has triumphed – love for our family members and love for
God," she said.
The government has placed restrictions on who can march with the women
and said that May will be a test month to see if they comply.
A defiant Pollan said they will march as they please.
"If they don't want more marches, release our family members," she said.