Dissident women in Cuba want government harassment halted
The Ladies in White want the church to intercede on behalf of dissidents
in eastern Cuba, who have been harassed by government-organized mobs.
By Juan O. Tamayo
Cuba's dissident Ladies in White met with an aide to Catholic Cardinal
Jaime Ortega on Tuesday to lay out their concerns over the recent
government crackdowns on their supporters and other activists in the
eastern province of Santiago.
"Our principal worry is to stop the beatings and harassments against the
Ladies in White in all of Cuba, but also that there's been too much
violence against other peaceful opposition activists," said Ladies in
White spokeswoman Berta Soler.
Soler said that she, Ladies in White leader Laura Pollán and her
daughter Laura Maria met at the office of the Havana archdiocese with
Msgr. Ramón Suarez Polcari, in charge of non-religious affairs, and
media spokesman Orlando Márquez.
Soler said the women had expected to meet with Ortega but were told he
had returned on Thursday from a busy trip to Spain and was still
recuperating. The women were not put off by his absence, she added.
Polcari "received our concerns and will relay them to the cardinal, who
will be in touch with the government and bring us back an answer," she
told El Nuevo Herald by phone just after the 80-minute meeting.
Ortega interceded with Cuban ruler Raúl Castro last spring, when
government-organized mobs attacked the Ladies in White as they marched
after Sunday mass in Havana to demand the release of political
prisoners. The harassments quickly stopped.
But members and supporters of the Ladies in White in eastern Cuba faced
renewed harassments as they tried to establish their right to attend
Sunday masses at the cathedral in Santiago, the island's second-largest
city, and stage street march afterwards.
Women activists in and around Santiago have complained of police
beatings, sexual harassments and detentions of one or two days to keep
them from reaching the cathedral.
Police also used tear gas and deployed a riot control unit on Sunday to
block a planned protest march in the nearby town of Palma Soriano. The
27 men arrested in that incident were last reported still in police custody.
Soler said the Havana Ladies in White have been asking to meet with
Ortega since July 18 to complain about the violence in eastern Cuba.
When they were called to Tuesday's meeting, they expected to meet with
him but were not specifically told he would be there.
"As human beings we understand that he's recuperating,' she said. Even
if he had attended the meeting, Soler added, he would not have been able
to provide immediate answers to the women's concerns.
The women have previously met with Ortega or Suarez Polcari or both
Suarez Polcari and Marquez, she added.
Human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, meanwhile, condemned
the recent repression in a statement Tuesday and said he was convinced
they were "ordered or approved by Gen. Raúl Castro himself."
Sanchez described the crackdown as "violent acts of political repression
against women and other peaceful dissidents," and said that most of the
men and women detained in recent weeks "suffered diverse acts of police
He also urged human rights organizations and activists abroad as well as
democratic governments to express their support for the victims of
political repression in Cuba and call on the Havana government to stop
In Washington, a spokesperson said the State Department was "concerned"
about the "growing violence by government-organized mobs" in recent
weeks against the peaceful Cuban protesters.
"We urge an immediate halt to the harassment and violence against the
Ladies in White," a department spokesperson told the AFP news agency.
"We support the wish of Cubans to freely determine their future."
Havana dissident Martha Beatriz Roque wrote to her parish priest urging
him to push his church superiors so they would press government
authorities to observe the women's right to attend mass at the Santiago
State Security agents have told some of the women dissidents in eastern
Cuba that only those who are practicing Catholics would be allowed to
attend mass at the cathedral, Roque wrote to The Rev. Santiago Martínez
at her neighborhood San Juan Bosco church.