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Cuba’s Human Rights Day Turns Ugly | Damas de Blanco
Ladies in White

Cuba’s Day Turns Ugly
By VANESSA ARRINGTON
The Associated Press
Sunday, December 10, 2006; 6:19 PM

HAVANA — Dozens of government supporters broke up a silent march by a
small group of dissidents marking International Human Rights Day on
Sunday, roughing up participants and accusing them of being mercenaries
of the U.S. government.

A second opposition march by wives of political prisoners took place
without incident.

The first demonstration, involving fewer than a dozen people in a public
park in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, was interrupted as soon as it
began by burly men who surrounded and pushed protesters.

The activists led by physician Darcy Ferrer tried to keep walking around
the park, but they were eventually forced out of the park and they fled
in taxis.

“Long live Fidel and Raul!” the government loyalists chanted, referring
to ailing leader and his brother. “Down with the worms!”

“They are mercenaries!” some of the loyalists shouted of the dissidents.

The government supporters were waiting for the activists at the park
before the march started.

Residents near the park came out of their homes to witness the
confrontation, which spilled into the street and disrupted traffic. Some
expressed contempt for the dissidents, who they said are being
manipulated by Cuba’s enemies and trying to destroy the island’s
socialist revolution.

“Every country has to choose its own destiny,” said Eduardo Gutierrez, a
68-year-old mechanic who sat across the street from the park. “If you
start receiving money from outside, you are no longer a patriot.”

The Cuban government frequently accuses dissidents of working with U.S.
officials to undermine the island’s system. That charge _ denied by the
dissidents and Washington _ was used against 75 activists rounded up in
the spring of 2003 and sentenced to terms ranging from six to 28
years.

Sixteen of those prisoners have since been released for reasons,
but more than 300 human rights activists, independent journalists and
members of outlawed political parties remain behind bars, according to
rights groups.

Activist Hector Palacios, who was let out of jail Wednesday in the first
release of a high-profile since the 80-year-old Fidel Castro
became ill, denied he ever received money from the U.S. government.

“The problem is that we don’t have a voice, so we are unable to defend
ourselves,” Palacios said.

Palacios spoke while waiting for his wife as she walked Sunday with the
Ladies in White, a group of wives and mothers of political prisoners who
walk down one of Havana’s main streets every week following Roman
Catholic Mass to demand the release of their loved ones.

The women marched peacefully, with no counter-protests. The weekly march
has been held regularly for several years, though it was broken up once
last year by a group of mostly women screaming pro-government slogans.

The Ladies in White also issued a statement in honor of Human Rights Day.

“In Cuba, lamentably, the totalitarian government has kept its people
submerged in and fear for 48 years to prevent them from
expressing their most basic ideals and aspirations,” the statement said.

It called for increased respect for human rights and the release of all
political prisoners.

Miriam Leiva, one of the Ladies in White, expressed dismay at the
harassment of the dissidents in the earlier march.

“They should have the right to protest, just like anywhere else in the
world,” Leiva said. “It’s pitiful that this happened on Human Rights Day.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/10/AR2006121000288.html

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