Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cuba's Ladies In White Hauled Away During Protest

Mar 18, 2010 3:46 pm US/Eastern
Cuba's Ladies In White Hauled Away During Protest
Eliott Rodriguez

A protest in Cuba Wednesday turned violent when a group of mothers and
wives came face to face with a pro-government mob. The women were
marking the 7th anniversary of a crackdown on dissidents, but Cuban
police put an end to their protest.

The so-called "Ladies in White" held a peaceful march through a Havana
neighborhood. They carried flowers and called for the release of their
loved ones. The protest marked the anniversary of Cuba's "Black Spring"
of 2003, when 75 dissidents were rounded up and hauled off to jail on
charges including treason and working for an enemy state. Fifty-three
remain in jail to this day.

As the 30 or so women walked along carrying flowers, about 200
government supporters marched alongside, separated by security agents,
shouting and harassing the opposition group.

In response to slurs the women shouted "Freedom" and "Zapata lives" in
reference to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an imprisoned dissident who died
from an 85-day hunger strike on February 23. He was the first Cuban
activist to starve himself to death in protest in nearly 40 years. His
mother, Reyna Tamayo, took part in the march.

As the pro-government crowd swelled, state security agents repeatedly
offered to take the women away in a bus. Finally, they pulled a bus up
and began hauling the women into it, grabbing some by the hair and
others by the arms and legs as they screamed in protest.

Aboard the bus the Ladies in White continued their protest and shouted
'freedom' as they banged on the windows in their now mud-stained white

"Every day more people are joining our struggle," one woman said. She
joined the group at a Catholic Church, where they prayed for the release
of their sons and husbands. Prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died last
month after a hunger strike. Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas is
currently on a hunger strike aimed at calling attention to the plight of
Cuban political prisoners.

One of those prisoners is Ricardo Gonzalez, an independent journalist
who ran a small library inside his home in Havana. Gonzalez gave an
interview to CBS4's Eliott Rodriguez in Havana a few months before he
was incarcerated. Gonzalez's relatives in Miami say he has taken part in
hunger strikes in the past and is in extremely poor health.

The Ladies in White are hoping to focus international attention on the
plight of Gonzalez and the other political prisoners. As neighbors
watched Wednesday, the women were confronted by a pro-government mob.
Cuban police quickly moved in and forcibly placed the women onto a bus,
and they were taken away. The women were detained for a while and released.

Despite what happened Wednesday, the Ladies in White vow to continue
their protests.

The United States and Europe have condemned communist-led Cuba over the
hunger strikes and called for the release of its estimated 200 political

Cuban leaders say dissidents are mercenaries working for the United
States and other enemies to subvert the government and have vowed to
resist international pressure to change their treatment of opponents.

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