Cuba’s Ladies In White Hauled Away During Protest

Mar 18, 2010 3:46 pm US/Eastern
Cuba’s Ladies In White Hauled Away During Protest
Eliott Rodriguez

A protest in Cuba Wednesday turned violent when a group of mothers and wives came face to face with a pro-government mob. The women were marking the 7th anniversary of a crackdown on dissidents, but Cuban police put an end to their protest.

The so-called “Ladies in White” held a peaceful march through a Havana neighborhood. They carried flowers and called for the release of their loved ones. The protest marked the anniversary of Cuba’s “Black Spring” of 2003, when 75 dissidents were rounded up and hauled off to jail on charges including treason and working for an enemy state. Fifty-three remain in jail to this day.

As the 30 or so women walked along carrying flowers, about 200 government supporters marched alongside, separated by security agents, shouting and harassing the opposition group.

In response to slurs the women shouted “Freedom” and “Zapata lives” in reference to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an imprisoned dissident who died from an 85-day hunger strike on February 23. He was the first Cuban activist to starve himself to death in protest in nearly 40 years. His mother, Reyna Tamayo, took part in the march.

As the pro-government crowd swelled, state security agents repeatedly offered to take the women away in a bus. Finally, they pulled a bus up and began hauling the women into it, grabbing some by the hair and others by the arms and legs as they screamed in protest.

Aboard the bus the Ladies in White continued their protest and shouted ‘freedom’ as they banged on the windows in their now mud-stained white clothing.

“Every day more people are joining our struggle,” one woman said. She joined the group at a Catholic Church, where they prayed for the release of their sons and husbands. Prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died last month after a hunger strike. Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas is currently on a hunger strike aimed at calling attention to the plight of Cuban political prisoners.

One of those prisoners is Ricardo Gonzalez, an independent journalist who ran a small library inside his home in Havana. Gonzalez gave an interview to CBS4’s Eliott Rodriguez in Havana a few months before he was incarcerated. Gonzalez’s relatives in Miami say he has taken part in hunger strikes in the past and is in extremely poor health.

The Ladies in White are hoping to focus international attention on the plight of Gonzalez and the other political prisoners. As neighbors watched Wednesday, the women were confronted by a pro-government mob. Cuban police quickly moved in and forcibly placed the women onto a bus, and they were taken away. The women were detained for a while and released.

Despite what happened Wednesday, the Ladies in White vow to continue their protests.

The United States and Europe have condemned communist-led Cuba over the hunger strikes and called for the release of its estimated 200 political prisoners.

Cuban leaders say dissidents are mercenaries working for the United States and other enemies to subvert the government and have vowed to resist international pressure to change their treatment of opponents.

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