23 March 2010
Laura Pollan is one of the "Ladies in White", who has been demonstrating
in Havana for the release of relatives imprisoned for their criticism of
the Cuban government.
Her husband, HÃetor Fernando Maseda Gutierrez, 67, is an engineer and
independent journalist and one of 75 people arrested during a crackdown
by the authorities in March 2003.
He received a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted under laws
that Amnesty International believes to be so vague that they are
currently being interpreted in a way that infringes fundamental human
Laura spoke to Amnesty International about the ill treatment she
experienced when detained by police during a demonstration in Havana
last week and her work on behalf of prisoners of conscience, one of whom
died earlier this month following a hunger strike, in Cuba.
She began by describing a protest by the "Ladies in White" that took
place on Thursday 17 March.
"We went to the Saint Barbara church in the municipality of Arroyo
Naranjo. We decided to go to Arroyo Naranjo because Miguel ValdÃ©s
Tamayo died there. We arranged a mass for him, as we did for Orlando
Tamayo Zapata [who died on hunger strike], as they were the two
prisoners of conscience who passed away.
"We also wanted to go to the house of Orlando Fundora, who had been on
hunger strike. Although he had stopped it, we wanted to know about his
health. His home is seven or eight blocks from the church. That is where
they [the security forces] attacked us.
"We were walking with a gladioli [a flower] in our hands, as we always
do, when they [government supporters] started shouting at us. We only
replied by saying 'Freedom!'
"I have got many scratches and bruises on my body, because the police
forced us onto buses. I still have a wound on my thumb.
"Once on the bus, they took us around many places. People were looking
"We were carrying pencils and gladioli that we always distribute during
our walks. Pencils saying 'human rights', saying 'Ladies in White'. When
we were on the bus, I was throwing pencils and gladioli [from the
window]. People could not collect them immediately, but I'm convinced
that later, out of curiosity, they would go and collect them; this way
they would know that those who threw them were human rights defenders,
the Ladies in White.
"When we arrived home, there were many people around. They had placed
police patrols to close the way. There were many people watching.
"A woman said: 'but if they are not doing anything wrong, the only thing
they want is their husbands' freedom, why do they treat them like this?'
"They [the police] can do anything they want. People are too scared to
join in [demonstrations].
"We are exhausted. Whilst our relatives are in jail, the Damas de Blanco
have to have the strength to be able to call for their freedom, and get
them out of those prisons where they should never have been put.
"I have been invited to Holland for a film festival, but I know that
they are not going to allow me to travel, they are not going to give me
permission to leave.
"They told me I should go to the Ministry of Education and ask the
Minister to give me permission to travel. They told me that if the
Minister gives me a permit, then it would be seen by the Office of
Migration. This doesn't make sense. I am 62.
"I have been retired from my work [as teacher] for more than 5 years, so
why does the Ministry of Education have to give me permission before
seeking a further authorization from the Office of Migration? This is
because they don't want to appear to be the ones who will not allow me
to travel. The Ministry [of Education] has got my file waiting for an
authorization since November 2005.
"I think they have had them [the prisoners of conscience] in prison for
too long, seven years, just for wanting to say what they think, to enjoy
freedom of movement, free association. They are not terrorists. They
just defend human rights and want a better future for Cuba, a future of
peace and democracy."