Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cuban security agents break up protest march

Posted on Wednesday, 03.17.10
Cuban security agents break up protest march
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Uniformed Cuban security agents prevented the mothers and
wives of dissidents from marching on the outskirts of the capital on
Wednesday to demand release of their loved ones, shoving them into a bus
when they lay down in the street in protest.

It was the second day in a row that a peaceful opposition march by the
Damas de Blanca - or "Ladies in White" - degenerated into a shouting
match, raising tension a day ahead of the anniversary of a major
crackdown on dissent.

The group is made up of female relatives of some of the 75 dissidents
arrested in a sweeping government operation on or around March 18, 2003.
Some 53 of the dissidents remain jailed, many of them sentenced to
decades in jail.

As about 30 Ladies in White left a church in the Parraga neighborhood,
hundreds of pro-government supporters crowded around them, shouting
"Long Live Fidel!" and "Get out, worms!"

The women shouted back "Freedom!" and said they wanted to call the
world's attention to the plight of their husbands.

Such "acts of repudiation" have become something of a ritual in Cuba.
The government claims they arise spontaneously as a result of disgust
with the dissidents. Others believe that the government organizes them
and that many of those taking part are members of state security.

As the women marched down the street clutching pink gladiolas, the crowd
followed them. At nearly every corner, Cuban police and Interior
Ministry agents asked the women to voluntarily end their march and take
shelter in a government bus, but the women refused.

The women were hoping to march to the home of Orlando Fundora, a
dissident who lives in the neighborhood, but a group of female security
agents in olive green Interior Ministry uniforms and blue police
uniforms formed a cordon at the end of the block, preventing the march
from continuing.

When the protesters lay down in the street in protest, the security
agents picked them up and put them in a government bus by force. The
women were dropped off a short time later at the home of Ladies in White
leader Laura Pollan.

The pro-government response to the marches has grown more forceful each
day in the lead-up to the anniversary. A march by the Ladies in White on
Monday came off peacefully. On Tuesday, government supporters shouted
them down as they marched in Havana.

Wednesday's march was the first time state agents physically intervened.
The Ladies in White say they plan to march again on Thursday's anniversary.

Cuba's human rights situation has been a cause of renewed international
tension since the Feb. 23 death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a long
hunger strike in jail. Another man, Guillermo Farinas, has refused to
eat or drink since shortly after Zapata Tamayo's death, though he is
allowing himself to be fed intravenously periodically at a local hospital.

The European Parliament last week voted overwhelmingly to condemn Cuba
for Zapata Tamayo's death, and a group of artists and intellectuals
including Pedro Almodovar have begun to circulate a petition criticizing
the Cuban government's actions.

On Tuesday, the human rights group Amnesty International called for the
release of all political prisoners.

Cuba has lashed out at the criticism, saying it will not accept pressure
or give in to blackmail. The government describes the dissidents as
common criminals who are paid by the United States to destabilize the
government, and says every country should have the right to jail traitors.
Editor's Note: Associated Press writer Paul Haven contributed to this

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