Cuba: Remembering founder of Ladies in White movement
9 April 2016
La Havana, Cuba – The ashes of Laura Pollan, the talismanic leader of
Cuba’s Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) human rights movement, were
recently laid to rest under a pine tree on Havana’s Quinta Avenida.
The former English and Spanish literature teacher had spent the last
eight years of her life leading massive protests on that spot, agitating
for the release of the 75 journalists and political dissidents sentenced
to life in jail on treason charges during the so-called Black Spring
arrests of 2003.
“Pine trees never stop growing, and nor will her ideas. So it was the
perfect place for her to rest,” smiled her daughter, also called Laura
Pollan, a 48-year-old single mother and former business owner.
The timing of the memorial service, however, landed its attendees in jail.
“We had chosen the date as the 13th anniversary of the Black Spring
arrests,” she explained. “That anniversary and Obama’s visit to Cuba
were enough for the authorities to want to send a message. The police
were waiting for us outside our houses on Sunday.”
The family says that arrest was the latest in a long line of aggressive
acts against them. Indeed, Pollan attributes her mother’s death in 2011
to one particularly violent act of repression.
“I was with her and 30 other Damas de Blanco in Santiago de Cuba in
August of that year,” she recalled.
“We had gone three blocks from a church there when we ran into a crowd
of paramilitaries, who gave us a terrible beating. Our principles are
based on Gandhi’s, so we don’t fight back, but this was a ferocious attack.
“I saw photos later of somebody pressing my mother against a wall,
scratching and biting at her wrist. Soon after this, she fell ill, and
died in hospital.
“There’s no way of proving this for sure, but the government was scared
of my mother. They knew she could move people.”
The loss was particularly hard to take for engineer and journalist
Hector Masada, 73, the elder Laura Pollan’s life partner, stepfather to
her daughter, and one of the last of the 75 Black Spring prisoners to be
Tall, slim and articulate, he spent eight years in prison – punctuated
by long spells of solitary confinement and vicious beatings – which do
not seem to have taken their toll on him in the way that his wife’s
“For every year I spent in jail, I had one month reunited with her,” he
said with a resigned shrug, during an interview in the sparsely
furnished house in Havana Centro from which his wife led the Damas de
Blanco movement. On one wall hangs her distinctive white T-shirt and
hat, the uniform that gave her movement its name.
“She gave her blood, sweat and tears for us when we were inside, and she
made enough noise that Raul Castro [the country’s president] couldn’t
ignore the pressure and had to let us out.
“She was a source of such strength to me. She and I had such a deep
affinity: all we had to do was exchange a look during a meeting and we
would be able to speak for one another.”
‘This is not Marxism, this is tyranny’
Masada was an early proponent of the revolutionary movement – “I’ve been
in both [1950s dictator Fulgencio] Batista’s and Castro’s cells, and
Batista’s were more spacious,” he smiled. His disillusionment with the
island’s one-party communist system came in the early 1980s, after he
refused to participate in a government-approved protest targeting the
relatives of Cuban exiles.
“Soon afterwards, I received a visit from the police, who wanted to know
why I hadn’t gone to the protest,” he told Al Jazeera. “I told them that
I was paid to conduct research, not to harass people.
“While I’d had my reservations about the system for a while, this was
the first time I’d spoken out. Over the years that followed, I started
to look for human rights groups, helped to set up the Liberal Party, and
eventually lost my job and was arrested.
“Even though I was released for ‘good behaviour’ in 2011, I’m still a
prisoner: I’m just not in a cell. I can’t get a passport, I have no
right to property, and every week the police flood my street to make
sure I’m not organising anything.”
READ MORE: Cuba for sale
After finding himself in prison at the age of 15 for supporting Castro,
Masada feels betrayed by the former president of Cuba.
Source: Cuba: Remembering founder of Ladies in White movement –