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  HOME | Cuba

Ladies in White March in Cuban Capital without Problems

HAVANA – Some 50 members of the Ladies in White, a group made up of relatives of the 75 dissidents jailed in Cuba’s “Black Spring” of 2003, marched again in Havana amid a heavy police presence and the heckling of hundreds of government supporters, but no serious incidents were reported.

The women, dressed in white and carrying flowers, started their march Saturday at the home of Ladies in White spokeswoman Laura Pollan.

Last Wednesday, Cuban state security agents broke up a march by the group, pushing and dragging some 30 members of the Ladies in White onto buses.

That march was plagued from the start by heckling from some 300 supporters of President Raul Castro and his brother Fidel, who resigned in favor of his younger sibling after a serious illness.

After two attempts to persuade the women to board buses, state security agents finally forced the marchers onto the vehicles and took them to the downtown Havana residence of Pollan, who denounced the authorities’ action as a “kidnapping.”

The group’s spokeswoman in Europe, Blanca Reyes, called Sunday on Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to reconsider his plans to seek an easing of the European Union’s policy toward Cuba, adding that such a change would work against ending a “ferocious dictatorship.”

The governments of Spain and the other EU members should maintain the policy in place since 1996, which ties dialogue with the Castro regime to moves toward democracy and respect for human rights on the island, Reyes said.

Moratinos has worked during Spain’s six-month rotating EU presidency, which ends in June, to change the bloc’s common policy to one based on a bilateral relationship that commits Cuban officials to releasing political prisoners and respecting human rights.

“The common position should not be changed and I think those who want to try do not understand the problem in Cuba,” Reyes said.

The Ladies in White have been holding events to dramatize the plight of the 53 members of the “Group of 75” who remain behind bars seven years after a crackdown by the Cuban government on what it labeled “mercenaries” of the United States.

The women marched in silence Saturday as supporters of the Castro brothers shouted insults at them.

Reyna Tamayo, whose son, Orlando Zapata, died Feb. 23 after an 85-day hunger strike, was among the marchers.

Dozens of police officers and Interior Ministry agents formed a protective cordon around the women after the first kilometer, separating them from the counter-demonstrators.

State security agents halted traffic and maintained the cordon for the duration of the march, which wound through several avenues in the capital.

The women visited a small Catholic parish, stayed in the church about an hour and were met by pro-government supporters as they left.

Supporters of the Castro brothers sang hymns and chanted slogans as the women walked back to Pollan’s house.

The Ladies in White shouted “freedom” at several points during the march, while the counter-demonstrators yelled “this is Fidel’s street” and “Raul, friend, the people are with you.”

The women completed the eight-kilometer (4.9-mile) march through downtown Havana and went inside Pollan’s house without any major incidents.

The Ladies in White plan to conclude a week of protests Sunday marking the seventh anniversary of Cuba’s Black Spring with a march along their usual route through the western section of the capital to Santa Rita Church.

The European Parliament approved a resolution earlier this month condemning Zapata’s death and demanding that the island’s communist government release its political prisoners.

Cuba’s communist government contends 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.

The Ladies in White were awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for human rights in 2005.

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