Cuban dissidents voice concern about hospitals as Pollán's daughter
praises mother's treatment
The dissidents comments add to speculation about the death of Ladies in
White founder Laura Pollán.
By Juan O. Tamayo
Seven prominent Cuban dissidents, highlighting their suspicions about
the death of Ladies in White founder Laura Pollán, said Wednesday they
don't want to be sent to any government hospital without the approval of
a trusted doctor.
Pollán, 63, died after a week in intensive care in Havana's Calixto
Garcia Hospital from what doctors said was a heart attack caused by
viral pneumonia and diabetes. Her daughter, Laura Labrada, said
Wednesday that she had no reason to doubt that.
Yet, some dissidents and exiles have begun to speculate, with little or
no evidence, that Pollán was somehow poisoned by agents of the Raúl
Castro government or did not receive adequate treatment at the hospital.
The seven Cubans who issued a joint statement as members of the Cuban
Democratic Aliance (ALDECU), wrote that their decision was driven by the
"untimely" death of Pollán on Oct. 14.
"We do not want to be admitted to government hospitals, unless it's a
case that clearly requires a surgical procedure, so long as the need has
been duly certified by an independent doctor that we trust," said the
Their goal is "to avoid that any supposed ailment or the death of any of
us could be manipulated in some way by the political police of the
totalitarian regime," the signers added. The government runs the
island's entire public health system.
They also asked that their wakes last at least one night and alleged
that government agents pushed to cremate Pollán's body quickly — after a
two-hour wake and only six hours after she died. Labrada denied any such
The signers were human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz,
former political prisoners Jose Daniel Ferrer García and Hector Palacios
and dissidents Guillermo Fariñas, Rene Gómez Manzano, Ivan Hernández and
Labrada told El Nuevo Herald that the Calixto García Hospital took very
good care of her mother, perhaps to avert later accusations that it
caused or allowed the dissident's death.
Doctors and nurses were almost constantly at Pollán's side, Labrada
noted. And, in a country where patients often must bring their own bed
sheets and medicines to hospitals, they provided all medicines and
almost-new bed sheets.
"I am not a doctor. But from what I saw, she received very good
attention," the daughter added. "I thought to myself that they were
going to do the impossible, because later there might be all kinds of
But the Rev. Ricardo Medina, a Protestant pastor who helped prepare
Pollán's body for her wake, wrote in a blog Wednesday that he took a
sample of her hair and follicles "so that a friendly hand could deliver
it to a laboratory abroad with the goal of determining … the real cause
of Laura's death."
Dissidents and exiles argue that Fidel Castro's long record of trying to
kill people he considers to be his enemies makes it easy to believe that
the Cuban government would try to silence a voice as strong and
respected as Pollán's.
"If Fidel were still in charge I would not hesitate to say yes," said
Brian Latell, a retired CIA analyst and author of "Castro's Secrets: The
CIA and Cuba's Intelligence Machine," to be published in April. But
brother and successor Raúl Castro would be more cautious and likely to
try less violent means to neutralize someone like Pollán, he added.
Yet, the conjectures abounded on the death of Pollán, who helped found
the Ladies in White in 2003 to demand the release of her husband, Hector
Maseda, and 74 other opposition activists jailed during a harsh
government crackdown on dissent.
Medina wrote that her extremely bloated body pointed to a renal failure
that could have been dealt with diuretics in the hospital. The proper
medicines were apparently not administered in order to cause her death
or an incapacitating stroke, he added.
A half- dozen members and supporters of the Ladies in White have
complained of being stuck with what appeared to have been hypodermic
needles during street confrontations with government-organized mobs.
Dissident Sara Martha Fonseca said the fingers of her hands and feet and
her tongue went numb after she was stuck in the back with what she
believed was a needle wielded by government supporters who attacked a
Ladies in White street protest in late 2009.
She initially blamed the symptoms on the blows from the government
supporters and her two herniated disks, Fonseca said. But she and
another Lady in White noticed marks on their backs, and a friendly
doctor said hers appeared to have been made by a needle.
Fonseca noted that some of the women dissidents are so suspicious that
one had a blood test done under an assumed name to make sure the
government — which controls Cuba's entire health system — would not be
able to cover up any negative results.
Labrada said the quick cremation of Pollán's body was her decision,
because she wanted to take the ashes as soon as possible to Manzanillo
in eastern Cuba — the city where she lives, where her mother was born
and where many relatives live.
"No one put pressure," she told El Nuevo Herald by telephone. Her
mother's death "was like the world was ending" and the quick cremation
was the result of "the pain and suffering of a desperate daughter who
wanted to find the warmth of my own family."