Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cuba's 'Ladies in White' defy fresh crackdown

Cuba's 'Ladies in White' defy fresh crackdown
24 Aug 2011 13:50
Source: trustlaw // Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (TrustLaw) - For the last five Sundays, Aimee Garces and other
activists have been harassed by the Cuban police.

"We've been pushed around, hit and injured by the political police,"
41-year-old Garces told AlertNet in a phone interview from Cuba. "Some
of us have been detained for up to 24 hours for no reason. We've been
beaten while police have shoved us into vans, and some of us have ended
up in hospital."

Garces is one of dozens of women from Cuba's prominent opposition group,
Ladies in White, who have been campaigning for the last eight years for
the release of all political prisoners in Cuban jails. Most of them are
wives and mothers of former jailed dissents.

Since July, the white-clad dissenters have expanded their protests from
the capital Havana to other parts of the island, gathering on Sundays
outside the cathedral in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's second city, to stage
peaceful marches.

Since then, Garces says, the Cuban authorities have stepped up their

"Last week, the police surrounded my house and kept banging on my door
in the middle of the night," said Garces, who along with other activists
was prevented by police from marching and attending mass in Santiago de
Cuba last Sunday.

Over the years, the Cuban authorities have accused the Ladies in White
of conspiring with the United States to subvert the government.


Rights group Amnesty International has condemned the latest bout of
repression against the Ladies in White.

"The ongoing harassment of these courageous women has to stop. The
Cuban authorities must allow them to march peacefully and to attend
religious services as they wish," Javier Zuñiga, special advisor at
Amnesty, said in a statement.

"It is unacceptable for the government under Raúl Castro's leadership to
perpetuate a climate of fear and repression to silence ordinary Cubans
when they dare to speak out," he added.

In 2003, the Cuban authorities imprisoned 75 of the women's relatives,
some for up to 28 years, for openly criticising the communist government.

Under a deal brokered with Havana by Cuba's Catholic Church and Spanish
officials, 52 dissidents were freed in July last year. In March, the
last two political prisoners jailed in the 2003 crackdown were released.

Garces said the Ladies in White, who are often seeing carrying flowers
while marching, will not stop protesting until all of Cuba's 60 or so
dissenters who remain behind bars are released.

"I want to see a free Cuba where human rights are respected and where
wives don't have to live without their husbands, and children without
their fathers, because the government imprisons people for their beliefs
and opinions," she said.

And despite the recent crackdown, the women remain defiant.

"We'll march every Sunday, whatever it takes, despite the beatings from
the political police," Garces said, adding that the group plans another
march next week involving more than 30 women. "We'll stand firm, we're
not afraid of anything.""

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