Dissidents: 20 women detained on way to Pollán's home
The women were detained to keep them from meeting about the Ladies in
White's future following the death of the group's leader.
By Juan O. Tamayo
Cuban police detained 20 members and supporters of the Ladies in White
to keep them from participating in a key meeting Tuesday to discuss the
group's reorganization after the death of its leader, members said.
Spokeswoman Berta Soler said police also surrounded the neighborhood and
blocked all vehicular traffic on the avenue in front of the Havana house
where the women met, the home of their late leader Laura Pollán.
Her death from a heart attack Friday at the age of 63 left the Ladies in
White and their supporters wondering about their future, while police
apparently saw an opportunity to try to put an end to one of the women's
most singular activities.
Pollán always hosted the women's monthly "literary tea" on Tuesdays,
gatherings where members and supporters talked about their jailed male
relatives and sometimes read their letters from prison out loud.
About 20 members or supporters of the Ladies in White were detained
Monday and Tuesday as they left their homes or approached Pollán's to
take part in Tuesday's "Literary Tea," Soler said.
"The state security agents told them, 'There's no Tea. That's over,'"
Soler told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from Pollán's home.
Some of the women were identified as Mayra Morejón, Rosario Morales la
Rosa, Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, Leonor Reino Borges, Yanelys Pérez and
Ana Iris Cabrera. Police were expected to free them soon after the end
of the "Literary Tea."
Twenty-six women nevertheless managed to gather at Pollán's home, Soler
added, to discuss "the organization, the reorganization and the
analysis" of the Ladies in White's future.
No decisions were expected Tuesday, Soler added, although there has been
talk of broadening the group's aims to struggle against all human rights
The Ladies in White was organized by the wives, daughters and mothers of
75 peaceful dissidents, who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms
during a 2003crackdown known as Cuba's Black Spring, to demand their
About two dozen were released over the years for health reasons, and
over the past year the Raúl Castro government freed the last 52 still in
prison as part of unprecedented talks with the Catholic Church. It also
freed 63 other prisoners arrested at other times.
All but 12 agreed to go directly from their prisons to the Havana
airport and into exile in Spain along with scores of relatives,
including many of the original members of the Ladies in White.
Yet the women argue that Cuban jails still hold dozens of political
prisoners who should be freed, and their street protests are regularly
bolstered with members of the so-called "Ladies in Support."
About 60 women, all dressed in white and carrying their traditional
gladiolas, took part Sunday in the group's first protest on the streets
near Havana's Santa Rita church since Pollán's death.
Among the 12 political prisoners who chose to stay in Cuba after they
were freed were Pollán's widower, Hector Maseda, and Soler's husband,
Angel Moya. Both served eight years of their 20-year prison sentence.
Maseda, a former independent journalist, has vowed that his home will
remain a gathering place and headquarters for the Ladies in White as
long as the group needs it.
The women won the most important human rights prize awarded by the
European Parliament in 2005, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought,
as well as other awards for their work on behalf of political prisoners.
Since an intercession in their behalf by the Catholic Church last
spring, they also became the only dissident group whose street protests
after Sunday masses at the Santa Rita church are tolerated by the Castro