Cuba’s Ladies in White dissidents honor late leader on Human Rights Day, amid counterprotest
Cuba’s Ladies in White dissidents honor late leader on Human Rights Day,
By Associated Press, Published: December 10
HAVANA — Cuba’s Ladies in White dissident group paid homage to their
late leader while observing International Human Rights Day at her home
Saturday, surrounded by a jeering pro-government crowd for a second
Photos of Laura Pollan and messages of condolence adorned the wall of
the house where she lived in central Havana and that served as a
headquarters for the Ladies since the group was formed in 2003.
Next to a lit candle, an empty chair was draped with white clothing that
belonged to Pollan. A single gladiola and a tiny Cuban flag rested on
“Laura Pollan lives!” the Ladies cried, and “Freedom for political
Outside, dozens of supporters of President Raul Castro’s government,
many of them students, massed at the front door and shouted
revolutionary slogans and insults at the women inside.
“Viva Fidel! Viva Raul!” they chanted, draping huge Cuban and
revolutionary flags from the roof.
Bertha Soler, one of the founders of the Ladies and its unofficial
leader since Pollan’s death in October, blamed authorities for the crowd.
“We want to go into the streets, which is the right of the Cuban people,
but the Cuban government prevents us from doing so with these organized
mobs,” Soler said. “The aggression is psychological, not physical, and
it’s a demonstration of the Cuban government’s intolerance.”
Authorities insist such counterprotests known as “acts of repudiation”
are spontaneous acts by citizens disgusted by the dissidents, whom
authorities accuse of being mercenaries paid by the U.S. to destabilize
the island. Little is done to hide coordination with state security,
It was the second counterprotest outside Pollan’s home in as many days.
On Friday, a crowd gathered there as the Ladies held a “literary tea”
inside and a flotilla organized by Miami exile groups parked in
international waters off Cuba, setting off fireworks in solidarity with
the Ladies and other dissidents.
The exiles had also urged acts of protest by Cubans such as banging on
pots and pans, though there was no sign that many people heeded their call.
The Ladies in White was founded in 2003 by Pollan, Soler and other wives
of government opponents who were rounded up and given long prison terms
in a crackdown on dissent.
The last of those prisoners still behind bars were released earlier this
year, and many left the island for exile with their families.
Those still remaining in the Ladies in White have vowed to press for the
release of other inmates who are serving time for politically motivated
but violent crimes like hijacking and sabotage. Because of the violence
tied to their acts, those inmates are not recognized as prisoners of
conscience by outside human rights groups like Amnesty International.