Thursday, March 25, 2010

Calle Ocho packed with marchers organized by Gloria Estefan

Posted on Thursday, 03.25.10
Calle Ocho packed with marchers organized by Gloria Estefan

Throngs of Cuban exiles wearing white and carrying gladioluses and Cuban
flags packed a stretch of Calle Ocho closed to traffic Thursday to make
way for a silent five-block march led by singer Gloria Estefan in
support of Cuba's Las Damas de Blanco, Ladies in White, peaceful
dissidents who were attacked by government security forces in Havana
last week.

The Cuban-American star called on South Floridians to join her in
protest of the treatment received by the women who were violently
confronted during a march in Havana to mark the anniversary of the 2003
jailing of 75 dissidents, many of them independent journalists and
poets. One of the dissidents, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died after a hunger

Hundreds heeded Estefan's call that of other celebrities who joined her,
including television personalities, exile group leaders, and revered
stars like singers Olga Guillot and Willie Chirino.

Shortly after police closed Southwest Eighth Street from Southwest 22nd
Avenue to Southwest 27th Avenue on Thursday afternoon, people began to
flock to Little Havana.

Couples holding hands, elderly bused in from suburban communities,
parents with small children and others dressed in white walked down
Calle Ocho, as vendors sold flags and beads, ice cream and other treats.
Some held flowers and others took seats on the curb.

``We're trying to voice what we can from this side of the water,'' said
Omar Pinate, 36, an Army sergeant stationed in Atlanta but in Miami on
vacation who was dressed in white pants, a white button down and a white
cap. ``Unity. Every little bit helps.''

Uniformed and plain clothes police officers were posted throughout the
Southwest 8th Street corridor.

``That's typically what we do when there are marches of this
magnitude,'' said Miami police spokeswoman Kenia Reyes.

Unlike early exile demonstrations, which relied solely on Cuban radio to
get the word out, the Internet's social media teemed with news of
Estefan's call for a show support on behalf of Las Damas de Blanco.

Colombian singer Juanes, who organized a controversial concert in Havana
last September, didn't show up (he was reportedly in London), but he
sent many messages of support via Twitter: ``CUBA, USA, COLOMBIA,
VENEZUELA libertad a los presos politicos, intercambio humanitario,
libertad a los secuestrados!! libertad!'' (freedom for political
prisoners, humanitarian exchange, freedom to the kidnapped!! freedom).

``..estoy con ustedes Damas de Blanco...'' another Tweet said. ``I am
with you Ladies in White.''

Many Cuban-Americans all over the country posted videos of the women
being dragged and beaten and made their support known through their
Facebook status and Twitter postings.

In New York, playwright and actress Carmen Pelaez created a Facebook
site for the Damas, uploaded a photograph wearing a white T-shirt in
support of them, and posted Thursday that she ``wishes she was in Miami
to walk with the thousands that will walk in support of LAS DAMAS DE

Pelaez took a quote from Orlando Zapata Tamayo's mother, a Dama de
Blanco, and made it her Facebook status:

` ``They dragged me, I am all bruised. They beat me. They called me a
N----r. They will know this mother's pain. When I get to my home town of
Banes in my home province ofHolguin they will have to bury me with my
son. But my people will remember me. They will remember me. . . . The
Castro brothers cannot be forgiven. They cannot be forgiven.'' No wonder
Fidel is afraid.'

In Boston, former Mayor Manny Díaz, who is teaching at Harvard's
Institute of Politics, led a group of students on a march through
Harvard Square in support of Las Damas de Blanco and the march in Miami.

In West Miami, a solidarity rally by residents who couldn't make it to
Little Havana but wanted to show their support took place in front of
City Hall.

They remained silent for 15 minutes in prayer for a free Cuba.

``It's very overwhelming to see this number of people dressed in white
holding flowers all standing for one worthy cause,'' Nancy Ortega said.
``It was so emotional.''

In Little Havana, Miami police will detour traffic until about 9 p.m.,
when the street is expected to be reopened. Estefan and her husband,
Emilio, have said that they will foot the bill for the cost of police
presence at the march.

Events like Thursday's and the Juanes concert are small steps in pushing
toward democracy in Cuba, said medical student Susana Bejar, 24, who
attended the march.

``It's important to show solidarity with them and the human rights
movement,'' said Bejar, who was born in Puerto Rico, but her family is
Cuban and she still has relatives on the island. ``It's important to
show Cubans we don't just care about what happened 50 years ago... it's
important to keep on building relationships, have direct mail. As the
two communities become more integrated that'll be the way to a new and
better Cuba.''

As for the Estefan's involvement, she said: ``Anything they touch in
Miami is gold. They're Cuban royalty.''

Miami Herald staff writer Jose Cassola contributed to this report.

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