HAVANA – Cuban State Security agents broke up a march on Wednesday by relatives of political prisoners, pushing and dragging some 30 members of the Ladies in White group onto buses.
Laura Pollan, the spokesperson for the dissident group, told Efe that the buses took the Ladies to her house, and she characterized what occurred as a “kidnapping.”
The security agents, most of whom were women, forced the Ladies in White to get on board the buses in an operation in which police officers also participated, the latter sealing off the adjacent streets.
The Ladies in White, comprising loved ones of the 75 dissidents jailed in Cuba’s “Black Spring” of 2003, on Wednesday attended a Mass at a church in the Havana suburb of Parraga and afterwards they were scheduled to visit opposition figure Orlando Fundora, said to be on hunger strike.
When the dissidents left the church, however, about 300 government partisans began to follow them and harass them with shouts and slogans for about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles), during which time more and more people joined the counterdemonstration.
The Ladies, dressed in white and carrying gladiolas, as is their custom, directed their own shouts of “freedom” and “murderers” at the supporters of President Raul Castro and his brother Fidel, who resigned in favor of his younger sibling after a serious illness.
On at least two occasions, State Security agents invited the dissidents to end their march and board the buses, but the Ladies refused and insisted on visiting Fundora, a “Group of 75” prisoner paroled on medical grounds.
As they were marching, a cordon of agents surrounded the women until finally an empty bus blocked the street ahead of them and they were forced to board it and a second bus that arrived moments later, all the while being pushed and pulled on board by the security personnel and getting their white garments covered with mud.
The buses took the Ladies directly to Pollan’s home in downtown Havana.
Among the Ladies was Reyna Tamayo, the mother of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died last month after an 85-day hunger strike to protest prison conditions.
Cuba’s communist government says there are no political prisoners on the island and denounces most dissidents as “mercenaries” in the service of the United States.
The opposition, however, puts the number of political detainees at roughly 200, around a quarter of whom are recognized by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience.
Pollan complained to Efe that she was “scratched, scraped” and, apparently, had suffered a “broken finger.”
“The only thing that we were going to do was go to the church and afterwards visit Fundora. Today, we weren’t going to any ‘sacred’ place,” she said, meaning that the Ladies had no plans to protest in front of any government building, as they had done on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the women protested before the headquarters of the state-run Union of Journalists of Cuba, where Pollan issued a call to the Cuban reporters to pay attention to the situation of the 53 opposition members in the Group of 75 who are still in prison.
In addition, some 150 Cuban government supporters harassed the women along the streets of the central capital area with shouts and slogans, but there was no violence. EFE