4:00 AM Saturday May 1, 2010
HAVANA: Nearly every eligible Cuban cast ballots in a vote the Communist
Government claims is proof of the island's democracy.
But if headlines were made, it was by six elderly women standing under
an ancient ficus tree, enduring seven hours of insults and obscenities
for demanding political prisoners be freed.
Cuba complains the foreign media makes way too much of a small, divided
dissident movement that has little sway with ordinary people. But the
Government has helped draw attention to the women - known as the Damas
de Blanco, or Ladies in White - by choosing, with no explanation, to
start blocking their small weekly protests after seven years of
In another sign of crackdown, an independent journalist with ties to the
Ladies in White was sentenced to 20 months in prison for allegedly
mistreating her adult daughter.
Dania Virgen Garcia was arrested on April 20 and sentenced three days
later after her daughter - apparently angry at her mother's criticism of
the Communist Government - filed a complaint, said Elizardo Sanchez,
head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation, citing information from friends of the detained journalist.
Sanchez said he suspects - but cannot prove - that Garcia was targeted
since she is a supporter of the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White,
whose regular Sunday march has been blocked by Cuban Government
supporters for the past three weeks. He said he would need several days
to obtain the necessary documents clarifying her arrest.
Garcia, who filed internet dispatches in defiance of Government controls
on all Cuban media, was being held at a high-security women's prison in
Havana and is unreachable, Sanchez said.
There was no answer yesterday at the home of Laura Pollan, a founding
member of the Ladies in White. Cuba's Government had no immediate comment.
After years of obscurity, the women have become a cause celebre among
Cuban-American exiles in the United States. The move to quash their
protests has many in Washington wondering if Havana is trying to scuttle
relations that seemed on the mend just months ago.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Fidel and Raul Castro could be
creating a crisis because they don't want the US to drop the embargo,
which she said gives them a convenient excuse for their revolution's
Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba's Parliament, scoffed at the notion.
"Mrs Clinton is a very intelligent woman and I don't want to be rude
with her," Alarcon said. "If she really believes the continuation of the
embargo is in the benefit of our government, it's very simple for her to
ask Congress to lift the embargo."