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Cuba's 'Ladies in White' defy fresh crackdown

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 24 Aug 2011 13:50 GMT
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BOGOTA (TrustLaw) - For the last five Sundays, Aimee Garces and other activists have been harassed by the Cuban police.

“We’ve been pushed around, hit and injured by the political police,” 41-year-old Garces told AlertNet in a phone interview from Cuba. “Some of us have been detained for up to 24 hours for no reason. We’ve been beaten while police have shoved us into vans, and some of us have ended up in hospital.”

Garces is one of dozens of women from Cuba’s prominent opposition group, Ladies in White, who have been campaigning for the last eight years for the release of all political prisoners in Cuban jails. Most of them are wives and mothers of former jailed dissents.

Since July, the white-clad dissenters have expanded their protests from the capital Havana to other parts of the island, gathering on Sundays outside the cathedral in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second city, to stage peaceful marches.

Since then, Garces says, the Cuban authorities have stepped up their crackdown.  

“Last week, the police surrounded my house and kept banging on my door in the middle of the night,” said Garces, who along with other activists was prevented by police from marching and attending mass in Santiago de Cuba last Sunday.

Over the years, the Cuban authorities have accused the Ladies in White of conspiring with the United States to subvert the government.

‘CLIMATE OF FEAR’

Rights group Amnesty International has condemned the latest bout of repression against the Ladies in White.

 “The ongoing harassment of these courageous women has to stop. The Cuban authorities must allow them to march peacefully and to attend religious services as they wish,” Javier Zuñiga, special advisor at Amnesty, said in a statement.

“It is unacceptable for the government under Raúl Castro’s leadership to perpetuate a climate of fear and repression to silence ordinary Cubans when they dare to speak out,” he added.

In 2003, the Cuban authorities imprisoned 75 of the women’s relatives, some for up to 28 years, for openly criticising the communist government.

Under a deal brokered with Havana by Cuba’s Catholic Church and Spanish officials, 52 dissidents were freed in July last year. In March, the last two political prisoners jailed in the 2003 crackdown were released.

Garces said the Ladies in White, who are often seeing carrying flowers while marching, will not stop protesting until all of Cuba's 60 or so dissenters who remain behind bars are released.

“I want to see a free Cuba where human rights are respected and where wives don’t have to live without their husbands, and children without their fathers, because the government imprisons people for their beliefs and opinions,” she said.

And despite the recent crackdown, the women remain defiant.

“We’ll march every Sunday, whatever it takes, despite the beatings from the political police,” Garces said, adding that the group plans another march next week involving more than 30 women. “We’ll stand firm, we’re not afraid of anything.”

 

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