Tue, May 27, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Cuban activists petition Obama

AP , HAVANA

An activist support group for the wives of Cuban political prisoners has written to US Senator Barack Obama, expressing hope his policies toward the communist-run island may help free their loved ones if he wins the US presidential race.

The Ladies In White, wives and other female relatives of 75 dissidents and independent journalists who were rounded up during a 2003 governmental crackdown on political dissent, sent an open letter to the Democratic candidate during his visit to Miami on Friday.

Two days later, 15 of its members — dressed in white and many wearing T-shirts with the pictures of their imprisoned relatives — marched silently down Havana’s crowded Fifth Avenue, clutching small plastic Cuban flags and flowers.

Varying group members repeat the same ritual every Sunday after Roman Catholic Mass, marching two blocks, then returning to face the church and yell “Freedom for political prisoners!” again and again. Most Cubans walking or driving past ignored their small demonstration, though some honked in support and others rolled down windows to shout obscenities.

The government does not tolerate organized opposition, and considers political opposition leaders “mercenaries” who take money from US officials to undermine Cuban communism. In the five years since the arrests, authorities have freed 16 of the inmates on medical parole and released four others into forced exile in Spain.

“We have great hope that you can contribute to the immediate, unconditional liberation of the 55 who are still in horrible prison conditions, with serious health problems,” the group wrote to Obama.

One of the founders of the Ladies in White, Miriam Leiva, said Sunday that representatives of the group living outside Cuba traveled to Miami to deliver the letter, and spoke with Obama for a few minutes.

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