On Saturday, March 20th, at 3:30 pm, I went to 963 Neptuno Street where Laura Pollan lives. With the recent police harassment of her home, it has become the headquarters for “The Ladies in White” who have been demanding from the Government the release of the political prisoners detained since the “Black Spring of 2003”.
From Infanta Street, you could see all the gathering of the agents of the state police, organizers of a riot that interrupted traffic and forced pedestrians to wonder what it was all about. I counted 62 police and 7 field uniform officers at Laura’s door, where she smiled at the mob and defied the police, whose faces denoted fatigue, distress and embarrassment. Only two old black women and a mulatto lady in her forties inveighed against the Ladies in White, who remained unmoved by the insults.
Among the police cordon, Liudmila Tarancón and a cameraman were filming the show for Cuban television. There, minutes before, the independent journalist Odelin Alfonso Torna was arrested for taking pictures. The agents, wearing civilian clothes, gave orders to their contacts. Police patrols and Suzuki motorcycles waited in side streets. From the height of a balcony, a neighbor sympathized with the women under siege. “What a pity!” said some walkers.
I looked at the faces as I walked by, dodged the frightened policemen, and, finally, I could enter the house of Laura Pollan. Minutes later, officers from State Security ordered the withdrawal and opened the street to traffic. The show was over. “The enraged people” waited for the end in whispers. Several plainclothes policemen stood in the street to hunt later, for certain ladies and gentlemen who would come out afterwards.
I talked with Laura and Reyna Luisa, the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a strong and courageous lady in her sixties who came from Banes, where she buried her son in late February. They and the thirty women who demand the release of their sons and husbands, know the system hits and denigrates them through the media to terrorize the masses.
The daily marches of “The Ladies in White” coincide with the international demand for the release of political prisoners in Cuba. Over 20 thousand people have signed the letter on the site http://orlandozapatatamayo.blogspot.com, including figures from the art world such as the Spaniards Ana Belén, Victor Manuel and Almodóvar; also a Socialist senator in Chile, the daughter of former President Salvador Allende, a friend of the Castros, and personalities from the sciences, literature and politics in America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The claim is universal.
On Sunday 21, The Ladies in White returned to the streets. They prayed in Santa Rita de Casia’s Church and walked down Fifth Avenue in Miramar to the National Assembly, where they chanted for freedom surrounded by henchmen of the political police who arranged for a bus to take them by force to 963 Neptuno Street, in Centro Habana. They were not further disturbed.
While the official Cuban press is silent and insults those who challenge the intolerance and the wall of control, sympathy grows for The Ladies in White, prisoners of conscience and communicators from the alternative pages that offer wings against the grip of power.
Translated by: Dr. J. Bobadilla