Cuban dissident's wife makes plea in Washington
A former Ladies in White activist has brought her plea to free her
husband, jailed in a Cuban dissident crackdown, to a human rights panel
and President Bush.
Posted on Fri, Oct. 12, 2007
BY PABLO BACHELET
Yamilé Llánes once worked for the legal staff of a Cuban government
bank. Her husband, José Luis García, was a respected plastic surgeon,
specializing in burn victims, in the quiet western town of Las Tunas.
But their lives unraveled in the 2003 crackdown on dissidents. García,
an activist for the Varela Project that gathers signatures for a
pro-democracy campaign, was sentenced to 24 years in jail.
Now the 38-year-old Llánes is campaigning for her husband and other
jailed dissidents, visiting Washington this week to tell her story to
President Bush, Congress members and the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights, a part of the Organization of American States (OAS) that
for the first time held a hearing on the 2003 crackdown.
''Don't forget the Cuban people and their suffering,'' she told the
IACHR commissioners Wednesday.
Llánes says she's still somewhat dazed at what she's been through. She
says Bush was supportive of her husband, and the president spoke about
him during a Rose Garden appearance with Llánes on Wednesday.
''He did nothing more than advocate for freedom,'' Bush said of García.
“And not only is he in prison, he's ill. And so one of the messages I
have for the Cuban leader is, free this man, and free other political
prisoners. He's not a threat to you.''
After her husband's arrest, Llánes spent four years as a member of the
Ladies in White, a group of dissidents' relatives that stages weekly
protests in Havana demanding their release. But after a pro-government
mob attacked her home last summer, García told his wife she had to leave.
''I'm doing my part,'' she recalled him telling her. “You must do yours
— take the family away from here.''
So in March, Llánes and their four children, ranging in age from 8 to
16, left to join relatives in Texas.
Human rights groups like the Miami-based Directorio Democrático Cubano
and the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba organized her visit to
put a human face on the suffering of the dissidents and their relatives.
Llánes told the IACHR that she lost her job after her husband was
imprisoned and that her son required psychiatric treatment. Cuban
pro-government organizations like the Committees for the Defense of the
Revolution organized campaigns to portray the couple as “terrorists.''
''It is difficult to summarize in this testimony all that we went
through,'' she told the IACHR. “Even though we wanted to lead a normal
life in Cuba . . . they did not let us live in peace.''
She said García spent nine months in solitary confinement and four years
in maximum-security prisons. He was allowed one family visit every three
months. She was permitted one conjugal visit every five months, but she
stopped going because the strip searches were too humiliating.
She said her husband suffered from claustrophobia and bouts of severe
diarrhea. He developed a mysterious inability to absorb glutens and
lactose and now weighs just over 100 pounds, compared with 185 when he
was first imprisoned.
PANEL'S LIMITED CLOUT
Of the 75 dissidents arrested in 2003, 59 are still in jail, according
to Laida A. Carro, a Coral Gables activist who accompanied Llánes.
Several were released for health reasons, four left Cuba and one died
because of what Carro said was the poor healthcare he received in prison.
Any IACHR decision on Cuba would carry little legal clout. Cuba was
suspended from the OAS in 1961 and does not recognize the panel's
jurisdiction. But Carro said that the IACHR hearing and other efforts
will help bring more international pressure on Cuba to free the prisoners.