Cuba's 'Ladies in White' march blocked again
By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press Writer
HAVANA -- A small group of carefully choreographed government supporters
shouted down an even smaller contingent of wives and mothers of jailed
opposition activists Sunday, preventing their traditional march for the
third straight week in another ugly confrontation that may be becoming a
Cuban weekend tradition.
After seven years of peaceful protests following Mass in Havana's
upscale Miramar neighborhood, Cuba has begun blocking the "Ladies in
White" from marching since the group never obtained written permission
to do so.
Officials first broke up their demonstration on April 11, with a
pro-government mob and buses that eventually gave the women a ride home.
The following Sunday, counter-demonstrators surrounded the "Women in
White," refused to let them march and shouted insults in an hourslong
standoff that ended with the women again being driven home.
This time, six members - down from nine last week - left the Santa Rita
de Casia Church and crossed swank Fifth Avenue to hold their
demonstration on a sidewalk that runs down the middle of the boulevard.
A state agent in a Che Guevara T-shirt said they couldn't march and
Laura Pollan, one of the group's founders, tried to respond.
But the agent turned and walked away and that cued two waiting groups of
about 50 counter-protesters each who came up the sidewalk from both
directions hoisting large Cuban flags. The women marched until they ran
into one group, then retraced their steps until meeting the other.
They shouted "Freedom!" and held skyward the pink gladiolas they always
carry. The counter- protesters surrounded them and shouted "Fidel!
Fidel!" Muscular state security agents with earpieces wedged themselves
in between the dueling protests to prevent violence.
Organizers in plainclothes moved through the counter-demonstrators
suggesting chants. When they called for a song with a refrain "How
Lovely is Cuba," the counter-demonstrators sang it repeatedly, jumping
up and down.
The "Ladies in White" were jostled off the sidewalk and pinned near the
entrance to the church's front yard. Shoving ensued and pro-government
demonstrators grabbed their gladiolas and tore them up.
The women then moved to a nearby park, under trees that provided shade
from the boiling sun. They remained there for hours, some of them
holding only the green stubs of their flowers.
Also Sunday, Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba's parliament, became the
first top official to respond to an assertion by U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton, that Fidel and Raul Castro don't want
Washington's 48-year embargo lifted because they would no longer be able
to blame America for their country's problems.
"Mrs. Clinton is a very intelligent woman and I don't want to be rude
with her," Alarcon said. "If she really believes the continuation of the
embargo is in the benefit of our government, it's very simple for her to
ask Congress to lift the embargo."
He also suggested Washington suspend its trade restrictions for one year
to see what happens.
On April 9, Clinton said, "It is my personal belief that the Castros do
not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see
normalization with the United States because they would lose all of
their excuses for what hasn't happened in Cuba in the last 50 years."
Members of the "Women in White" are relatives of 75 opposition activists
arrested in a 2003 crackdown on dissent, but Cuba claims they are agents
of Washington out to destabilize government.
During Sunday's protest, Miriam Leiva, a "Ladies in White" founder who
stopped marching in 2008, showed up to watch from afar. Because she was
wearing green, not all white, no one knew to shout at her.
"This is a desperate act by a desperate government," Leiva said.