Thousands rally in L.A., N.Y. to support Cuba's 'Ladies in White'
Following the footsteps of thousands in Miami and joining in solidarity
with the `Ladies in White' of Cuba, protesters marched in New York and
By DEBORAH BELGUM, STEWART STOGEL AND LAURA ISENSEE
Thousands of protesters formed a river of white as they marched around a
lake in a Los Angeles park Sunday, joining other marchers around the
world to expose the plight of political dissidents in Cuba and support
the wives, mothers, and other women who defend them.
Before the procession at Echo Park northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a
crowd estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 heard speeches by actor Andy García,
comedian George Lopez, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, and others.
``You have to look at human rights in Cuba,'' García told the throng.
``It has been ignored for 50 years. The Castro brothers have been in
control of the information, but with technology, blogs, and Tweets they
have lost control and people are now in the streets,'' said García, who
was born in Cuba and grew up in Miami-Dade.
The Los Angeles demonstration was one of several marches during the
weekend, from New York City to Madrid. They followed in the footsteps of
the tens of thousands who walked Thursday down Calle Ocho in Miami, led
by Cuban-American musical icon Gloria Estefan.
`VERY HUMAN CAUSE'
All sought to show solidarity with the Ladies in White -- Las Damas de
Blanco -- who have protested in silence in Cuba since the 2003 jailing
of 75 Cuban dissidents, and who were violently confronted by government
security forces earlier this month.
March organizers said their goal was simple: to show that human-rights
abuses in Cuba are a worldwide issue.
``This is not about politics. It is a very human cause,'' said Sean
McKean, whose mother is from Cuba. McKean helped organize a silent march
in New York on Sunday with a national network of Cuban-American youth,
called Raíces de Esperanza (Roots of Hope).
Under gray skies and intermittent chilly rain, the New York event
started small. But it quickly drew hundreds who marched down Fifth
Avenue to the statue of Cuban hero José Martí at the southern end of
Yale University professor and author Carlos Eire said he joined the New
York protest because the world has ignored the Ladies in White, whom he
compared to South Africa's Nelson Mandela.
``Their men, their fathers, their brothers who are in prison are
suffering the same kind of discrimination,'' Eire said.
Earlier Sunday, more than 50 people -- including poet María Elena Cruz
-- gathered in front of the Cuban Embassy in Madrid in support of the
Ladies in White, according to Spanish media reports.
And in Cuba, blogger Yoani Sánchez said via the micro-blogging website
Twitter that 25 Damas de Blanco demonstrated Sunday in Havana's Miramar
``There have not been any interruptions,'' Sánchez wrote on Twitter.
In Los Angeles, however, there was one ruckus when a man stood on a hill
overlooking the crowd and waved a Cuban flag with an image of Che
Guevara, the Argentine who helped lead the Cuban Revolution.
The crowd booed and organizers urged them to stay calm.
``We have the freedom to do that in this country,'' Hilton said, drawing
But later a band of men clad in white wrestled the flag away and stomped
it into the ground.
The demonstrations in Los Angeles and New York drew families, exiles who
had not seen their homeland for decades, political prisoners like Huber
Matos, and youths who were born in the United States. Gladiolas, white
roses, flags, and banners dotted the crowd in Los Angeles.
One sign read: ``A black American asked for a change and became U.S.
president. A black Cuban asked for a change and Castro put him in jail.''
For many, the marches for the Ladies in White renewed their hope for change.
``We hope this will be the spark to help the Cuban people who have
suffered for 51 years,'' said Alberto Montero, 71, who came to the
United States in 1963 and joined the Los Angeles march.
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