Thursday, March 18, 2010 10:30 PM
HAVANA - With tourists looking on, hundreds of pro-government protesters
shouted down 40 members of the Cuban opposition group "Ladies in White"
in Old Havana on the anniversary Thursday of a 2003 crackdown on dissidents.
State security agents kept the two sides separated during a loud verbal
showdown in the Cuban capital's historic center and principal tourist
It was the fourth of seven days of marches scheduled to protest Cuba's
jailing of 75 opponents and the third in a row in which the women have
been confronted by government supporters. On Wednesday, Cuban police
grabbed the dissidents by their hair, dragged them into a bus and drove
The Ladies in White, whose members wore their traditional white clothes
and marched with flowers in hand, is made up of wives and mothers of the
75 jailed dissidents, most of whom remain behind bars.
"Today marks the seventh anniversary of the unjust imprisonment of our
family members," said Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan, whose
husband, Hector Maseda, is serving a 20-year jail sentence.
The commemoration of what is known as Havana's 2003 "Black Spring" comes
amid international condemnation of the Cuban government for the February
23 death of jailed dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day
hunger strike protesting prison conditions.
Police did not intervene as Thursday's dueling marchers passed through
Old Havana's narrow streets, their numbers at times forcing tourists
along popular Calle Obispo to press against buildings to let them pass.
"I don't know if they are for or against. I don't know who they are,"
said German tourist Torstin Gesche as he waited for the marchers to pass.
Throughout the protest march, government supporters danced along the
streets, shouting "Vive Fidel! Viva Raul! This street belongs to Fidel."
The Ladies in White shouted "Freedom!" and "Zapata lives."
Fidel Castro, 83, ruled Cuba for 49 years after leading Cuba's 1959
revolution and ceded power to his brother Raul Castro two years ago due
to age and ill health.
The United States and Europe have condemned communist-led Cuba for
Zapata's death and also for its handling of another hunger striker,
dissident Guillermo Farinas, who is demanding the Cuban government
release 26 ailing political prisoners.
He has not eaten since February 24 and for the last week has been in a
hospital in his home town of Santa Clara, where he is receiving liquids
Another former political prisoner, Orlando Fundora, began a hunger
strike last week and was said to be in a Havana hospital.
The Ladies in White were on their way to his home on Wednesday when
police broke up their march. They have said they will march for seven
days to mark the Black Spring anniversary.
Cuba's government has described Zapata and Farinas as common criminals
who became dissidents because of material benefits they received from
It routinely portrays government opponents as "mercenaries" working for
the United States and other foes.