Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cuba: Laura Pollan, Ladies In White Founder, Mourned

Cuba: Laura Pollan, Ladies In White Founder, Mourned

HAVANA -- Cuba's tiny dissident community gathered on Saturday to mourn
the loss of one of its most prominent leaders, Ladies in White founder
and leader Laura Pollan, who for years made her home a headquarters for
planning protests against the communist government.

Family members, government opponents and diplomats gathered at Pollan's
house in a working-class neighborhood of Havana, welcomed by her
widower, formerly imprisoned dissident Hector Maseda. The U.S. Interests
Section in Cuba brought a floral wreath.

"We have had a physical loss. It's not easy especially for me, because
we have been together these past eight years," said Bertha Soler, who
helped Pollan found the group in 2003 to press for the release of their
husbands and 73 other activists, social commentators and government
opponents imprisoned in a crackdown on dissent.

Pollan, 63, died Friday night of cardiorespiratory failure, a week after
being hospitalized with an aggressive respiratory virus. Family members
reported that Pollan's doctors tried for nearly an hour to revive her.

"They acquitted themselves well. Professionally they are very capable,"
Maseda said.

In the front living room, which for years was decorated with portraits
of Maseda and 74 other dissidents jailed in 2003, only a painting of
Pollan was on display Saturday surrounded by flowers, a rosary and
candles. The last of the dissidents, including Maseda, were released
earlier this year under a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church.

Pollan's body was cremated before dawn. Half the ashes were taken to her
birth city of Manzanillo in eastern Cuba, and the rest were in the
Havana home.

"We are going to do what she wished ... and scatter her ashes in a
flowery field," Maseda said.

Pollan was one of the most prominent and vocal opposition figures in a
country where those who dissent publicly risk reprisals or imprisonment.
Even after the Ladies accomplished the goal for which they were founded,
the group continued to protest against the government, which excoriated
the women as traitors doing the bidding of the United States.

Soler, considered the group's No. 2 leader despite its avowed
nonhierarchical organization, said the Ladies will continue their weekly
protest marches following Sunday Mass, dressed in white and carrying

"Everything will continue as always, without the physical presence of
Laura Pollan, but spiritually she will be with us," Soler said.
"Tomorrow we will go to the Church of Santa Rita as we have been doing
for eight years."

In Washington, the White House issued a statement praising Pollan and
her group.

"The President's thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends, and
colleagues of Laura Pollan, the founder of Las Damas de Blanco, who
passed away Friday in Havana," it said. "Pollan and the quiet dignity of
the Ladies in White have courageously voiced the core desire of the
Cuban people and of people everywhere to live in liberty."

There was no mention of Pollan's death in Cuban state media, which
normally ignores dissidents' activity except to accuse them of being
stooges of Washington.

But the pro-government blog La Pupila Insomne noted her passing and said
the doctor who attended her, Armando Elias Gonzalez Rivera, confirmed
that she suffered from a viral attack.

Condolences also came from the Cuban exile community in Miami, where a
Mass was announced for later Saturday in Pollan's honor.

Cuban-American singer and actor Gloria Estefan called Pollan "the
personification of the strength of the Cuban woman" and "a shining
example of courage, peace and perseverance that will serve as a guide to
those who struggle for a free Cuba."

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