Friday, March 26, 2010

Tens of thousands join Gloria Estefan in march for Cuban protesters

Posted on Friday, 03.26.10

Tens of thousands join Gloria Estefan in march for Cuban protesters

In solidarity with the Ladies in White, tens of thousands of people
joined Gloria Estefan in an emotionally charged march in Miami.
Tens of thousands march for Ladies in White
Gloria Estefan and a huge crowd dressed in white filled Calle Ocho to
show solidarity with the "Ladies in White", human rights protesters in
Cuba who have been attacked by government agents. Tens of thousands
marched Thursday, March 25, 2010 in Miami to call for liberty in Cuba.
Miami Herald Staff

Tens of thousands of Cuban exiles wearing white, and carrying
gladioluses and flags marched for blocks along Calle Ocho with singer
Gloria Estefan in support of Cuba's Damas de Blanco, Ladies in White,
the peaceful dissidents who last week were attacked by government
security forces in Havana.

In an unprecedented turn of events, the Ladies in White marched at the
same time along Havana's famous seawall, stopping in front of the Hotel
Nacional to release a dozen doves.

``¡Libertad! ¡Libertad!'' the women chanted.

They were soon hassled by a mob that chanted: ``Fidel! Fidel!''

In Miami, the throng of marchers, which included different generations
of exiles and other Latin Americans, also chanted ``¡Libertad!'' and
displayed placards with photographs of jailed dissidents and the Ladies
in White. ``Obama, yes, we have a dream, too,'' one sign said.

It was a rare show of unity in a community often divided over how to
bring democracy to Cuba, and Estefan, whose appeal crosses several
generations of Cubans, seems to have emerged as its strong new voice.

``Thank you, Miami,'' Estefan said as she took the podium. ``This shows
we're one people. We are the people that love and defend freedom.''


Then, Estefan got word on her cellphone about the events in Havana.

``At this moment, the Ladies in White are marching and are receiving
violence again,'' Estefan said. ``Ladies in White, we walk with you.''

The singer also delivered from the stage news reports of another violent
act against a dissident in Cuba, later confirmed by El Nuevo Herald. A
mob of civilians organized by state security tried to break into the
home of dissident Luis Miguel Sigler in a Matanzas town -- just as the
Miami march got under way.

Estefan, however, ended the hourlong march with a message of peace.

``Peace, love and freedom in the world,'' she said. ``¡Viva Cuba Libre!
¡Viva los Estado Unidos! May God bless this great nation that has
allowed us to do this.''

The Cuban-American star had called on South Floridians to join her in
protest of the treatment received by the women in Cuba. They 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 strike.


Tens of thousands heeded Estefan's call in South Florida .

The crowd included television personalities, exile group leaders, and
revered stars including singers Olga Guillot, Willy Chirino and Pitbull.

Said Miami native Pitbull on the size of the crowd: ``Just shows the
pride and love, how people really want change,'' he said.

``We're the only voice Cuba has, the only ones who can speak out.

``This is the moment in which history begins to change,'' said singer
Amaury Gutiérrez, who came to Miami six years ago.

Gloria Estefan's famous husband, Emilio Estefan, agreed.

``We truly are in a new era and it's the young generation with blooming
technology in an age of camera phones and Twitter,'' he said. ``There is
no escaping the truth anymore. We have finally reached a turning point
for Cuba, Miami, the movement. This is a turning point in history.''

People flocked to Little Havana shortly after police closed Southwest
Eighth Street from 22nd to 27th avenues on Thursday afternoon.

Couples holding hands, seniors 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 and in Miami on
vacation. He 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
Eighth Street corridor, but there no reports of incidents.

``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.''

Colombian singer Shakira e-mailed to media a message of support to the
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-----. They will know this mother's pain. When I get to my home town of
Banes in my home province of Holguín 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 Diaz, 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, marched 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.''

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. 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 involvement of the Estefans, she said: ``Anything they touch
in Miami is gold. They're Cuban royalty.''

El Nuevo Herald staff writer Juan Tamayo contributed to this report.

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