By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com
Cuban police and a pro-government mob Monday shut off the area around the Havana home where the dissident Ladies in White were marking the anniversary of the death of their founder, and police reportedly detained 22 group members who tried to reach the home.
“The government brings the mob, paid by them, to silence our words,” Ladies in White leader Berta Soler said by phone from the home of founder Laura Pollán, which became the group’s office after her death on Oct. 14. 2011 at the age of 63.
Loud music and chanting could be heard in the background, coming from the loudspeakers set up by government officials to amplify the shouts by the more than 100 government supporters crowded since 2 p.m. just outside the front doors of the home on Neptuno Street.
About 50 Ladies in White were gathered in the home to mark Pollán’s death but another 22 were detained by police Monday to keep them from attending the ceremony, Soler said. Such detentions are usually ended after an event ends.
Police closed off the one block of Neptuno in front of Pollan’s house to vehicular and pedestrian traffic since early Monday and installed a “large stage” for the event against the women, according to a report by the Spanish EFE news agency.
At least six police vehicles and several police agents, most of them women, could be seen on Aramburen street, on one end of the closed-off block of Neptuno street, EFE added. The Cuban government regularly organizes such “acts of reputation” to harass and intimidate dissidents and to prevent them from staging street protests against the island’s communist system.
Soler said the Ladies in White gathered in the home had no intention of going out into the street and hoped simply to mark Pollan’s death by showing a video celebrating her life and reading some of the letters she wrote giving her support and encouragement to other dissidents.
Another 82 members of the Ladies in White were detained around the island over the weekend as they tried to reach ceremonies honoring Pollán, Soler said. All were believed to have been released by Sunday night.
Pollán was one of the main founders of the group, made up of the wives, mothers and daughters of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown known as Cuba’s “Black spring,” to demand the release of their male relatives.
Some of the 75 were released early for health reasons, and the last of the men still in prison were freed in 2010 and 2011 by the Raúl Castro government after meetings with leaders of Cuba’s Catholic Church. All but a dozen or so went directly from prison to the Havana airport for flights to exile in Spain.
The Cuban government reported Pollán died from a heart attack, brought on by a respiratory crisis complicated by a bout with dengue fever and her diabetes. Some of her followers have said they suspect she was poisoned but offered no evidence.
Pollán died nine months before another top dissident, Oswaldo Payá, and supporter Harold Cepero were killed in what Cuban officials called a traffic accident. Payá’s family maintains the fatal crash was caused by a State Security vehicle that rammed their car.