News and Facts about Cuba

First Anniversary of the Death of Laura Pollan

First Anniversary of the Death of Laura Pollan

Translating Cuba

Of short stature, with blue eyes and a firm voice, Laura Pollan was for

years one of the most visible faces in Cuba of the Ladies in White. A

teacher by profession and a civic activist by choice, she participated

in the creation and strengthening of the most important group

on the island today.

This October 14 marks the first anniversary of her death, and many are

reviewing her legacy and the current state of the movement she helped to

found. Twelve months ago the big question was if this women's group

could survive the death of its principal leader, but that question has

already been answered.

The current spokeswoman, Berta Soler, tells us that the Ladies in White

have grown both in number and in their presence throughout the country.

If, initially, the activities organized by the group were confined to

Havana, now they also extend to Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas,

Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Pinar del Rio.

Although she prefers not to share the exact number of women members, it

is estimated to exceed 180 in all of Cuba. In her role as spokeswoman,

Berta is confident, energetic. But for her, as well, the past year has

meant a significant change in her life. On her shoulders, now, rests the

responsibility that she seems to carry with ease. She always refers to

her predecessor and does so with love and respect.

This Sunday, if they are allowed to gather there, the Ladies in White

will make a special pilgrimage around Santa Rita Church as a tribute to

Laura Pollan. From the early hours of the morning, at their headquarters

in Neptune Street, they will also open the doors to all who wish to pay

their respects or sign the memory book for the fallen leader. Already,

an altar dressed in white adorns the corner of the little room where she

lived and a photo of Laura smiling is surrounded by gladioli.

Since last Friday, traffic on Neptune Street, a major capital arterial,

has been blocked off. Government supporters are gathered in front of the

Ladies in White headquarters, claiming to be there "to commemorate the

45th anniversary of the death of Ernesto Guevara and 53 years since the

disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos."

None of them, when asked, made any reference to the women dressed in

white whom they could see through the open door of the house at number

963. The volume of music at the event had been annoying the neighbors

since early morning. "I don't know why all the fuss against some

peaceful unarmed women?" said a young man, who fled out of fear of

reprisals after saying his name. Meanwhile, the conga broadcast through

the bullhorns continued to blare in all directions.

Laura Pollan: the woman who jumped beyond her own shadow

When her husband was during the so-called Black Spring of 2003,

Laura Pollan's life experienced a radical change. She rose from

anonymity and domestic routine to be at the center of praise from

democratizing forces and insults from the official press.

The last Sunday of March in 2003 a group of women dressed in white

clothing attended mass for the first time at Santa Rita Parish, in the

beautiful Miramar district of Havana. From that time on, peaceable 5th

Avenue became the scene of their Sunday March for this group of women

that grew in number and prestige over the years. Their main demand was

structured around the release of the 75 opponents of the regime

sentenced to long terms. 's government had dealt a

devastating blow to the dissidence, justifying it legally with Law 88,

also known as the "Gag Law." The accusations centered around the alleged

involvement of the accused with destablization plans hatched in the

United States.

In 2005 these women, always dressed in white, were recognized with the

European Parliament's Sakharov Prize, but the government did not allow

them to to participate in the award ceremony. However, they

continued their peregrinations every Sunday and also other activities,

principally in the city of Havana. The headquarters of the group came to

be the humble home of Laura Pollan, in Neptune Street.

Repudiation rallies raged against them as did attacks in the official

media. It was a rare month in which there wasn't some television program

accusing them of being "employees of the Empire" or categorizing them

with the aggressive epithet, "Ladies in Green." Reputation assassination

and a public stoning of their image have been among the methods most

used against the Ladies in White. Laura Pollan was a favorite and

systematic target of these defamations.

Between 2010 and 2011 the Cuban government carried out a process of

releases, in which the Catholic Church and 's Foreign Ministry

played the role of mediators. The prisoners from the Black Spring still

behind bars were released. Many went into exile in Spain and a few

others decided to remain in Cuba. The Ladies in White had to redefine

their civic role and chose, then, a movement that now

transcends their original precepts. The headquarters of the movement

continues to be the home of Laura Pollan.

When Laura Pollan was admitted to a Havana emergency room, very

few believed that her situation was terminal. The fortitude that

animated this little woman made us believe she would recover quickly.

But on the night of October 14 the news of her death dismayed the entire

Cuban dissident community. Although the medical report stated that the

cause of death was respiratory failure, doubts still surround the death

of the activist.

When she died she had been able to enjoy only eight months in the

company of her husband after he was imprisoned for more than seven years.

One year later

The peaceful woman's movement Laura Pollan helped to conceive and build,

has redefined itself and shows signs of growth. It seems unlikely that

the Cuban government can eradicate the Ladies in White with acts of

repudiation, with defamation and with brief arrests. But nor does the

day seem near when they will recognize them and legally allow their


According to Berta Soler, "repression is now greater and stronger than

ever." She made that statement in the room where a little over a year

ago Laura Pollan sat, talked, gave statements to the press… lived.

14 October 2012

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