Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cuban dissidents still show hunger for freedoms

Cuban dissidents still show hunger for freedoms
Guillermo Martinez, El Sentinel
September 26, 2013

Cuba's Black Spring began in March of 2003. For three days, government
security agents went around the country arresting peaceful dissidents,
who Fidel Castro believed would endanger the stability of the longest
dictatorship in the history of Latin America.

Seventy-five men were arrested and summarily tried and sentenced to
prison terms of up to 25 years. Their crime was to peacefully ask for
changes to the Cuban Communist Constitution.

International condemnation of the arrests began immediately. Human
Rights First said the arrest was "widely considered the most severe
crackdown on civil society that Cuba has seen in years."

Inside Cuba, the arrests also mobilized the wives of the detained men,
who went to mass at Santa Rita, a church on Fifth Avenue in Miramar (now
called Playas), across the river from the city of Havana. After mass,
the women walked peacefully, dressed in white and carrying a white
gladiolus in their hands. On that March Sunday in 2003, the Ladies in
White organization was born.

Yolanda Huerga remembers those days well. Her husband, Manuel Vázquez
Portal, was one of the 75 men arrested. Ten or 12 of the wives of the
men arrested gathered at Santa Rita to attend mass and then march
silently in protest.

Today there are groups of Ladies in White throughout the island who on
Sundays go to church to demand democracy and freedom of expression for
Cuba. Huerga believes there are more than 260 Ladies in White in the
group going to mass the then walk in silent protest. The women
understand the difficulty of their task and the risks they now take.
They had chosen Santa Rita to start because she is the patron saint of
difficult causes.

At first the government ignored the women. By March 20, 2005, the
government began to harass the women. On that day more than 100 women,
organized by the government's state security apparatus, crashed into the
group, began yelling and pulling our hair, Huerga said,

The Ladies in White responded by travelling to cities and towns inside
Cuba and organizing groups throughout the country. Huerga said many had
already heard of the group and traveled to Havana to march with them on
Sunday. The group's first leader, Laura Pollán, who died of a suspicious
ailment in 2011, believed in having the group spread to other parts of
the country. Bertha Soler, who replaced Pollán, carried out her wishes.

As the group grew, the government decided to release the men arrested.
They forced some to leave the island with their families. Others were
denied the white card that would allow them to leave the island. The
government hoped that by releasing the men, the marches would stop. They

Huerga, 54, and her husband were among the first to leave Cuba in June
of 2005.

Huerga, who now works in Radio Martí, said news of the group spread
despite the strict censorship in Cuba. Some heard about it from friends,
some from the Internet and some from hearing Radio Martí, Huerga said.
Cubans traveling back to the island also helped spread the word. Many
carried with them flash drives with stories, pictures and video of the

Frustrated by these brave women who now have groups in Santiago de Cuba,
Holguin, Guantanamo, a small group in Ciego de Avila and in Granma
province, the government opted to use brute force to try and stop them.
That did not work, either.

State security agents try and arrest the women before they get to the
march. If they fail, government thugs beat them up in an attempt to
disrupt their meetings.

Still the meetings continue to grow. On Sept. 8, at least 257 members of
the Ladies in White and UNPACU, another large and important group of
dissidents, gathered at the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity to honor
Cuba's patron saint and demand Cuba honor basic human and political rights.

The struggle for Cubans to rid themselves of the Communist regime has
been long and difficult. But it gives me hope to see that the desire to
be free still burns in the hearts of these brave women and other
dissidents in the island.

Guillermo I. Martinez resides in South Florida. He is a syndicated
columnist and comments on American politics for Radio and TV-Martí. His
e-mail is and his Twitter is @g_martinez123

Source: "Guillermo Martinez: Cuban dissidents still show hunger for
freedoms - Sun Sentinel" -,0,1122066.column

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