Ladies in White

Posted on Thursday, 05.06.10
Plotting the way forward

Last Sunday the — dressed in white with coral gladioli
in their hands — resumed their customary walk after Mass at the Church
of Santa Rita. again rang along the stately Fifth Avenue in
Miramar, a Havana suburb.

For three weeks, government mobs had prevented the ladies from walking
in honor of their husbands, sons and brothers imprisoned for their
beliefs since the Black Spring of 2003. The ladies had walked every day
for a week to mark its seventh anniversary. The regime fumed and told
them to apply for a permit; the ladies refused.

Jaime Ortega Alamino, Cuba's cardinal, mediated the crisis and, for
once, the government responded. Images of security agents dragging the
women into buses after seven hours of insults didn't do official Cuba
any favors.

After celebrating Mass at Santa Rita, Ortega addressed the international
media. “High-ranking officials offered their guarantees that
would not be used against the women,'' Ortega said.

The respite, however, is only through May when the government will
review the situation. The cardinal might have to make it a habit to
officiate Mass in Miramar every Sunday.

A small victory

Still, in the words of leading lady Laura Pollán whose husband is
serving a 20-year sentence, it was a small victory. “Love won,'' she
added. “If they don't want us to walk anymore, they should set our
loved ones free.''

Things haven't been going well for the regime lately. Orlando
Tamayo's death opened the floodgates. The European Parliament, the
Mexican government and Senate, Sebastián Piñera, 's , and
the opposition Socialist Party, the United States, , the Brazilian
Senate, Amnesty International, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights — the list goes on — asked Cuba to be respectful of life.

The regime was taken by surprise. Should Guillermo Fariñas — the
who launched a hunger strike more than two months ago to
protest Zapata's death and demand the release of 26 political prisoners
in frail — pass away, the ensuing uproar would be deafening.

The Catholic Church, his fellow dissidents and his supporters in Miami
are all asking him to desist. Cuba's senior leaders better pray that
Fariñas listen.

The cardinal's successful mediation offers a sliver of light. In
accepting a compromise regarding the Ladies in White, the government
extended a rare hand of moderation –“a good gesture,'' “a novel
step,'' said Ortega — for which it deserves recognition. Many, perhaps
most officials in the second and third tiers surely breathed long sighs
of relief. There could be a second round.

What's the best option?

Might the 26 political prisoners in frail health ask Fariñas to end his
hunger strike? That's what some in Havana and Miami are proposing. The
government could invite the Red Cross to visit these prisoners and
submit a report on their health.

Or it could ask the cardinal to put together a panel of Catholic
physicians to examine them, an even better option. These ailing
prisoners must be freed and an intervening professional opinion may be
just what Cuba's senior leaders need.

In the end, the government should rethink its policy towards the Damas
de Blanco and all other groups in Cuba whose demands fall outside
official bounds. All are there for the long haul. Moreover, citizens
within the broad fold — singers Pablo Milanés, Silvio Rodríguez and
Carlos come to mind — are raising their voices to denounce

“We are thankful for the Church's intervention because we were stubborn
— the government and we — we (the Damas de Blanco) admit it,'' said
Loida Valdés. That's the crux of the matter. When tensions rise, the
parties concerned often can't or won't yield. Speaking softly and
discreetly is an art that may bring results in these situations.

“In the Catholic Church, the Cuban state has neither an ally nor an
enemy,'' said Palabra Nueva, the Havana archdiocese's magazine. To get
where we want to go, Cubans of all political leanings — no matter where
we live — need many more mediators from within our ranks. That's the
way forward.

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