Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ladies in White attacked in Cuba, most violent since spring

Posted on Friday, 08.19.11

Ladies in White attacked in Cuba, most violent since spring

A spokeswoman for Ladies in White said the recent attack against the
group was the worst violence since spring.
By Juan O. Tamayo

Cuban government supporters attacked more than 40 members and supporters
of Ladies in White in what a spokeswoman called the worst violence
against the Havana group since the Catholic Church interceded in their
behalf last spring.

Spokeswoman Berta Soler said the mob punched, slapped and kicked the
women, spit on them, pulled their hair and ripped some of their clothes
to break up the women's attempt to stage a street protest Thursday.

Several of the 42 women who were attacked reported bruises on their arms
and legs but none required medical treatment, Soler and Ladies in White
leader Laura Pollán reported Friday by phone from their homes in Havana.

Pollán said the women left her home after their monthly gathering for a
"literary tea" for a march to protest violent attacks on the Ladies in
White branch in the eastern city of Santiago over the past four weeks.

Forty-seven women had gathered at the house but five did not go out
because of age and health issues, she said. Another eight women were
detained and taken away by police near her house Thursday morning to
keep them from joining the gathering. They were freed later.

Soler said Thursday's attack was the harshest in Havana since March of
last year, when the Catholic Church urged the government to halt an
increasingly violent string of aggressions against the women during
their regular Sunday protests

"This was a very violent act by the government," she said, adding that
the harassments against the Ladies in White, who demand the release of
all political prisoners, have been growing more violent since December.

Cuban dissidents are reporting increased government repression across
the island this year, amid speculation that the government is applying a
tough hand as it tries to enact ambitious and risky reforms to overhaul
the island's economy.

"I think the government feels that it is lost and has no options, and is
using these terrorist actions against a defenseless population" to keep
Cubans in check, said Soler.

Soler said the men in plainclothes who directed Thursday's mob were
known to the women as officers of the so-called Confrontation
Department, the branch of the Interior Ministry in charge of tracking
dissidents and averting their activities.

The Ladies in White, who won the prestigious Sakharov human rights prize
in 2005, want to urge Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega to intercede as he
did last year, Soler said. But he's out of the country and not expected
back until after Aug. 23.

Ortega's intercession meant the Havana women are the only dissidents
allowed to stage regular street protests — every Sunday after mass at
the Santa Rita church — by a government that has long claimed "the
streets belong to Fidel" Castro.

Government-organized mobs have used violence to keep the women's branch
in Santiago, Cuba's second-largest city, from marching after mass there
in what members acknowledge is a campaign to win their own right to take
to the streets.

An editorial Friday in the Boston Globe newspaper, meanwhile, noted that
Syria is not the only place where "dictatorial rulers have been
bloodying their critics" and criticized the attacks by "pro government
goons" against the Ladies in White.

Castro "has nothing to fear from them but their integrity and moral
authority. That, however, they have in abundance, while the ruthless
regime over which Castro and his brother Fidel have presided for more
than half a century has long since lost any claim to the respect or
admiration of the free world," it added.

A Cuban website, meanwhile, published a column saying that a machete
attack on a dissident in Guantánamo last month was the "spontaneous"
work of a government supporter and was not ordered by the government.

Ernesto Carrera Moreno was hospitalized with a cracked skull after he
was attacked by a man identified as an official in the municipal
directorate of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

The column said Cuban security forces do intervene to protect dissidents
"from the people's anger" but added: "Nevertheless, there is a reality:
Our people will always respond to any provocation that offends their
principles and damages the peace of citizens."

The column was signed by Percy Francisco Alvarado Godoy, a Guatemalan
living in Havana who has acknowledged working for Cuban intelligence. It
was published on the web site of the government-run Radio Habana.

No comments:

Post a Comment