Laura Pollán Toledo, one of Cuba’s most active dissidents, has died in hospital aged 63. Pollán was the founder of Cuba’s “Ladies in White” activist group, a thorn in the side of Castro’s government for the past eight years. By REBECCA DAVIS.
Pollán launched the “Damas de Blanco” organisation during 2003’s “Black Spring”, when the Cuban government summarily jailed 75 journalists and human rights activists for up to 28 years. The 75 were detained on trumped-up charges, including “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state”. Among those arrested was Pollán’s husband, Héctor Maseda, sentenced to 20 years in jail as a result of his work as an independent journalist. Pollán formed the Ladies in White two weeks after his arrest.
It initially consisted of relatives of the prisoners gathering at a church in Havana to pray for the prisoners. They then began to walk from the church to a nearby park, each woman dressed in white and carrying a gladiolus, wearing a button with the photo of the jailed relative and his prison sentence. They have been carrying out this simple act of silent protest for the past eight years, frequently the target of angry pro-Castro crowds who surround them to yell abuse.
The majority of the prisoners, including Pollán’s husband, were released earlier this year after interventions from the Catholic Church and the Spanish government persuaded Raúl Castro to free them. The women continued their weekly marches, however, with Pollán telling the Associated Press last month, “We are fighting for freedom and human rights”.
Pollán had been in hospital since 7 October, with her death on Friday attributed to cardiac arrest. Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler told a Spanish news agency “This fight will continue”. DM
- Laura Pollán Toledo, Who Rallied Wives of Jailed Cuban Dissidents, Dies at 63, in the New York Times.