CubaBrief: Ladies in White are still resisting tyranny after 20 years. Members of Congress seek to rename street in front of Cuba Embassy after Oswaldo Payá

Cuba had undergone a Spring that began in the weeks prior to Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island nation in January 1998. Christmas returned after being initially banned in 1969 for the 10 million ton sugar harvest campaign. It would remain forbidden in Cuba for the next 27 years, and returned as a gesture to the visiting Pontiff. Over the next five years Cuban civil society grew and movements and groups spread across the island.

This Cuban spring came to an end on March 18, 2003 with a massive crackdown on Cuba dissidents by the Castro regime’s secret police. Over a 100 were rounded up, but 75 would be subjected to political show trials and sentenced to lengthy prison terms ranging up to 28 years in prison. What drew the dictatorship’s wrath? Some had organized a petition drive, legally recognized within the existing constitution; others were independent journalists or human rights activists.

The largest cohort detained were associated with the petition drive called the Varela Project, but the main proponent of the initiative, Oswaldo Payá, was not arrested.

The dictatorship’s agents thought they had crushed the Cuban democratic opposition, but they did not count on the wives, daughters, and sisters of those who had been unjustly imprisoned.

The Ladies in White were founded by Claudia Márquez Linares, Blanca Reyes Castañón, Dolia Leal Francisco, Miriam Leiva Viamonte, Gisela Delgado Sablón, Yolanda Huerga Cedeño, Marcela Sánchez Santa Cruz, and Berta de los Angeles Soler Fernandez, whose loved ones were among those jailed in the March 2003 crackdown.

On March 30, 2003, this group of women, that came to be known as the Damas de Blanco [Ladies in White], visited the Santa Rita Church in Havana, Cuba for the first time. Marti Noticias published an extensive article and the above short documentary on the Ladies in White on March 30, 2023.

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo had not yet joined the movement, but did soon after.

Twenty years later, and this movement endures in Cuba, and the women’s demands remain firm: free all prisoners of conscience and dismantle the laws that jail Cubans for exercising their fundamental rights.

There are over a thousand political prisoners in Cuba today, and four of them are Ladies in White. Their names are: Tania Echevarría MenéndezSaylí Navarro Alvarez, Sissi Abascal Zamora, and Aymara Nieto Muñoz.

There is plenty of reason to fear for their safety. Dissidents have been known to suddenly become ill and die in custody of state security.

Long time leader of the Ladies in White, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, died under these suspicious circumstances in 2011.

 Today in the Miami Herald, Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart published the OpEd “We want to make sure Cuba’s regime never forgets the power of Oswaldo Payá” in it they describe a regime engineered car “accident” that led to the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012.

The dictatorship waited ten years to carry out their deadly reprisal against the Christian Liberation Movement leader.

The two Members of Congress are working to see that the street that runs in front of the Embassy of Cuba in Washington DC be renamed after the slain opposition leader.

Miami Herald, March 31, 2023

We want to make sure Cuba’s regime never forgets the power of Oswaldo Payá | Opinion

By Ted Cruz and Mario Diaz-Balart Updated March 31, 2023 3:44 PM

Cuban dissident Oswaldo Pay died in a car crash in 2012. Pedro Portal EL Nuevo

On July 22, 2012, the leader of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá, left his house with three other people to go visit friends.

From the start of the journey, his car was followed and, on Twitter, someone with ties to the Cuban regime tweeted that Payá had left his house and was on the road. Once they left Havana, a car with blue “official” license plates slammed into the back of the car carrying Payá. He and Harold Cepero, a young pro-democracy activist, died. The crash is widely believed to have been orchestrated by the Castro regime. Payá’s life and legacy are enduring lessons in the strength, resilience and power of dissidents.

Payá had long been a thorn in the Castros’ side, even from a young age. He was the only person at his school who refused to join the Communist Youth. As a teenager, he publicly opposed the communist crackdown on protesters in Czechoslovakia, who were fighting for freedom, and was punished with three years in prison.

Undeterred, Payá later founded the Varela Project, which sought a referendum on Cuba’s communist system. The demands were simple: democratic government, religious liberty, freedom of expression and the freedom to start businesses.

Ángel Carromero, the friend who was driving the car in which Payá died, says that when he awoke after the crash, the hospital was flooded with uniformed military personnel and he was greeted by a regime operative. The regime’s thugs tortured him into signing papers absolving them of murdering Payá. 

[ Full article ]

https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article273820185.html

Babalu Blog,  March 31, 2023

Cuba’s Ladies in White: Still strong after 20 years

March 31, 2023 by Alberto de la Cruz

On March 20, 2003, a group of courageous Cuban women, all relatives of political prisoners, formed an opposition group on the island that to this day continues to challenge and stand up to the communist dictatorship.

Via Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

The Ladies in White Founders: A look back to their first gathering 20 years ago today

 What’s past is prologue. – William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 2, Scene I.

The Ladies in White were founded by Claudia Márquez Linares, Blanca Reyes Castañón, Dolia Leal Francisco, Miriam Leiva Viamonte, Gisela Delgado Sablón, Yolanda Huerga Cedeño, Marcela Sánchez Santa Cruz, and Berta de los Angeles Soler Fernandez, whose husbands were imprisoned in March 2003.

On March 30, 2003, this group of women, later known as the Ladies in White, visited the Santa Rita Church in Havana, Cuba for the first time.

Claudia Márquez Linares, was then leading the Sociedad de Periodistas Independientes “Manuel Márquez Sterling” (“Manuel Márquez Sterling” Society of Independent Journalists.) Her husband was opposition leader Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés. Osvaldo, led the Partido Liberal Democrático de Cuba (Liberal Democratic Party of Cuba), and was sentenced to 18 years in prison following the March 2003 crackdown.

Blanca Reyes Castañón, one of the founders of the movement and wife of the prestigious writer, poet and journalist, now deceased, Raúl Rivero, sentenced to 20 years in prison, declared to The New York Times in 2003: ”This is so arbitrary for a man whose only crime is to write what he thinks,” said Mr. Rivero’s wife, Blanca Reyes. ”What they found on him was a tape recorder, not a grenade.”

Dolia Leal Francisco is the wife of Nelson Aguiar, sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2003. At the time of his arrest Aguiar was president of the Cuban Orthodox Party. “Before her husband was sentenced to 13 years in prison, Dolia Leal Francisco had little contact with the other wives of Cuba’s dissidents.

Today, they are like a surrogate family to her, a sort of sisterhood bound by shared summary trials”, reported the Havana Bureau of the South Florida Sun Sentinel on May 4, 2003.

Continue reading HERE.

https://babalublog.com/2023/03/31/cubas-ladies-in-white-still-strong-after-20-years/#more-289843