Friday, October 14, 2011

Laura Pollan, founder of prominent Cuban dissident group Ladies in White, dies at age 63

Laura Pollan, founder of prominent Cuban dissident group Ladies in
White, dies at age 63
By Associated Press, Updated: Saturday, October 15, 4:58 AM

HAVANA — Cuban dissident Laura Pollan, who founded the opposition group
Ladies in White and for nearly a decade staged weekly protest marches
with other wives of political prisoners to press for their release, died
Friday, her husband said. She was 63.

Hector Maseda said his wife died of a "cardiorespiratory attack" after
doctors had tried for nearly an hour to revive her. Pollan had been in
intensive care for acute respiratory problems since Oct. 7.

Earlier Friday, her daughter, Laura Labrada, said Pollan had undergone a
tracheotomy to help her breathe. She added that doctors had discovered a
strain of dengue, but said an aggressive respiratory virus was the main

Pollan was one of the best-known and most 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
— their husbands' freedom — the group continued to protest against the
government, which excoriated the women as traitors doing the bidding of
the United States.

"She was a teacher and a housewife, but she became a leader for civil
rights," said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human
Rights and National Reconciliation, a prominent human rights activist on
the island. "She has played a fundamental role, without a doubt even
beyond winning freedom for her husband."

Few can remember a time Pollan was seen in any color other than white,
but before 2003 she was a nearly anonymous high school literature
teacher who loved cats and plants. She steered clear of politics and was
reluctant about her husband's dissident activities.

Then the government struck with one of the biggest crackdowns on dissent
in decades, arresting her husband and 74 other activists, social
commentators and opposition leaders, accusing them of accepting money
from the U.S. and other foreign sources for counterrevolutionary
activities. Known as the Group of 75, they received sentences ranging
from six to 28 years, prompting international condemnation. The European
Union froze relations with Cuba for more than a year.

The arrests sparked the creation of the Ladies in White and began
Pollan's transformation from activist's spouse to agitator in her own right.

In the weeks afterward, Pollan walked around the places where she
thought her husband might be in custody. Sometimes she ran into other
women doing the same, and they started gathering at her home in a gritty
Havana neighborhood.

Over the years the Ladies grew from a dozen initial members to about 30,
using Pollan's home as a center of operations and refuge for those
visiting from the provinces. Its front door was nearly always open,
revealing a front living room full of white-clad women, its walls
decorated with pictures of their husbands.

The Ladies soon began marching through the leafy Havana district of
Miramar each Sunday after Mass at the Church of Santa Rita, patron saint
of impossible causes, clad in white and carrying gladiolas.

"We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families,"
Pollan said in 2005. "We love our men."

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