Tue, Aug 23, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Cuba dissidents allege rough handling by officials

‘ACTS OF REPUDIATION’:The Ladies in White, who call for the release of political prisoners, accused government supporters of assaulting them as they protested

Reuters, HAVANA

Cuba’s most prominent dissident group, the Ladies in White, complained on Sunday of recent rough treatment by government supporters and said it may have been prompted by the group’s spread to another Cuban city.

The Havana-based group started a new chapter in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba last month and plans to extend activities to other provinces in what Cuban officials might view as a challenge to their authority and more US-backed mischief.

“They know that the people are more discontented every day and what they want is to avoid at all cost an increase in opposition,” Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan said after the group’s weekly silent march from Santa Rita Catholic Church on Havana’s Fifth Avenue.

“They know they will have to put us in prison or kill us because we are not going to give up this space we’ve won. We’re going to continue fighting for freedom,” Pollan said.

She and others showed off bruises they said were inflicted on Thursday by more than 100 government supporters as they tried to stage a march protesting the treatment of the nascent group in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city.

“I tell you — it was something brutal,” said Pollan as she described pushing, shoving, kicking and clothes ripping that went on before the skies suddenly opened up and a major downpour sent everyone scurrying for cover.

The Ladies in White have been subjected to previous “acts of repudiation” as they are called in Cuba, but the actions eased after the Catholic Church intervened last year.

The government has not responded to reports about the Thursday march, but the 30 or so women marched without incident on Sunday in a continuation of protests that began after 75 of their family members were jailed in a March 2003 crackdown on dissidents.

The women, who dress in white and each carry a single flower, are the most enduring symbol of government opposition in Cuba and powerful enough that last year Cuba freed 115 political prisoners, including those remaining from 2003.

The prisoner release was brokered by the Church in an agreement that also allowed the women to make their Sunday marches in peace.

Pollan said they continue protesting because they believe more than 60 political prisoners are still behind bars.

She said the Santiago chapter has 34 members, six of whom are said to have family members in jail for political reasons, and that more women want to join. There are about 60 members in Havana, she said.

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