Posted on Sunday, 04.18.10
Cuban security agents again halt march by Ladies in White
For the second time in as many weeks, security agents denied the female
relatives of jailed dissidents permission to hold their protest Sunday.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuban security agents and pro-government civilians blocked the Ladies in
White from marching for a second Sunday in a row, signaling a clampdown
on a group that has won growing attention and support abroad.
The nine women were surrounded following their usual Mass at a Havana
church, and after a three-hour standoff some were forced into a bus and
driven away, said group member Alejandrina García.
``They did not let us march. They did not let us take one step forward
or backward,'' added García. ``I was picked up by the arms and legs and
forced into the bus.''
The second blockage of a march in as many weeks indicated the government
has decided to put a stop to the women's Sunday protests, which are
covered by foreign journalists in Havana and have drawn growing
international backing and recognition.
The Ladies in White, female relatives of dissidents jailed since 2003,
have won several human-rights prizes for their peaceful protests
demanding the release of their relatives and all other political prisoners.
President Barack Obama mentioned them in a recent statement, and singer
Gloria Estefan showed him photos of the women during a fundraiser at her
Miami home last week.
Security agents warned the women two weeks ago they need police permits
for the marches, but they have not sought the permits, saying they have
a right to stage their protests.
Police prevented several of the group's members from reaching the Santa
Rita church Sunday, said Carlos Serpa, an independent journalist who
often covers their events. Serpa said he also was detained in a police
car for three hours to keep him away from the church.
After the Mass, nine Ladies in White walked out of the church and tried
to march but were surrounded by state security agents and about 50
pro-government civilians, García told El Nuevo Herald by telephone.
A security agent told the women they could not march because they lacked
a permit, but the women remained standing just outside the church for
about three hours, García added.
``We staged an act of civil resistance,'' she said. Three of the women
began to feel sick under the hot sun and went to a nearby hospital
before the standoff ended, she added.
``At the end, the security agents and the mob were suffering from the
sun as much as us, so they flagged down a city bus and forced us aboard
in a harsh way, with pushes,'' García said.
The pro-government civilians shouted insults at the women, who answered
with shouts of ``freedom,'' said García. The buses took them to the home
of the group's spokeswoman, Laura Pollán.
A strong police presence also was reported Sunday around the Havana home
of human-rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, though no incidents were
Blogger Yoani Sanchez sent out a Twitter message reporting that ``part
of the city has been occupied by State Security. Why don't they just
declare a state of siege?''
The mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died in
February after a lengthy hunger strike, reported she also was blocked
from staging a street march Sunday in her town of Banes in eastern Cuba.
Raúl Castro's government has put pressure on virtually all Cubans in
recent weeks to defend the country against what it calls an ``enemy
campaign'' condemning human-rights abuses on the island.
``Any activity ends with a declaration of unconditional support'' for
the government, a Cuban university professor told a friend in Miami last
``You can't make a comment, neither waiting for bread at the bakery nor
in the vegetable and fruit markets, without someone `who is alert'
jumping on you to `clarify things for you,' '' the professor added.
``Polarization is growing, shades disappear and reason is lost.
Forbidden to think for yourself.''