Laura Pollan, reportedly a week ago (l.), and leading march
Every week for nearly eight years, Pollan and the group she founded, Las Damas de Blanco, held protest marches to press for the release of their husbands, who are being held as political prisoners. They always wore white, a symbol of the organization, and carried gladiolas.
The Cuban government has often tried to move them, but the power of the Internet brought the Ladies in White a worldwide audience.
Their popularity was growing as Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, 63, was hospitalized on Oct. 7 after suffering respiratory problems.
News reports last night said she had undergone a tracheotomy hours earlier to help her breathe, and that doctors blamed an aggressive respiratory virus as the cause of the cardiorespiratory arrest that killer her.
ODonnell Rosales believes it could have been prevented.
“She was basically permitted to DIE by being denied proper medical care at the beginning of her illness, due to political beliefs against the Communist Regime,” said the producer, author and host of a blog radio show, Rosales’ History of the South, based in Mobile, Ala.
It was more than eight years ago that the Cuban government arrested more than six dozen activists, journalists and others opposed to their country’s policies and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms after accusing them of taking money from the U.S. and other foreign governments.
Pollan’s husband, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, and most of the others have since been freed. But that hasn’t deterred the Ladies from calling out the Castro regime for its ongoing human rights abuses. It also hasn’t prevented crowds of government supporters, accompanied by state security agents, from shouting insults and profanities. They Ladies have been detained at times – and even herded onto buses and driven back to their neighborhoods.COURTESY Yaquelin Chang (Facebook)
“We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights,” Pollan told The Associated Press. “As long as this government is around, there will be prisoners… [W]hile they’ve let some go, they’ve put others in jail. It is a never-ending story.”
Last year, Miami-based Cuban singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan ignited a rally that drew 100,000 people to Little Havana. Nationwide protests swelled, thanks not only to online postings and messages but to the dignified, honorable presentation she staged – far from the usual political protest rallies seen worldwide.
“This is a big message to [the prisoners] that freedom is alive,” Estefan told the crowd, “and we care for them, and we love them. Viva Cuba libre!”
Estefan has opened the floodgates for Cuban-American descendants who came to the United States, studied, worked hard and planted firm roots here. A great many have settled in Hudson County – particularly in our own “Little Cuba,” Union City. They have watched Pollan’s courageous group with great admiration.
“Our community here in New Jersey wants to show solidarity with the jailed dissidents and the Ladies in White,” Luis Israel Abreu, head of the Union City-based Union of Former Cuban Political Prisoners, said last year.
Pollan taught high school literature teacher before retiring in 2004.
A year earlier, her husband was among the dissidents known as the Group of 75 who were arrested in the Black Spring, a crackdown on opposition figures.
Pollan soon began showing up outside government facilities where her husband could have potentially been imprisoned. After running into wives of other political prisoners, she began holding meetings in her Havana home. Thus was born Las Damas de Blanco.
Soon after came marches through Miramar every Sunday after Mass at the Church of St. Rita (patron of impossible causes).
“We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families,” Pollan said in 2005. “We love our men.”
That was the year the European Union honored the group with its top human rights distinction, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Of course, Castro wasn’t about to let her travel to Europe to receive the prestigious honor. By doing so, he only raised her profile.
“She was a teacher and a housewife, but she became a leader for civil rights,” said fellow activist Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. “She has played a fundamental role, without a doubt even beyond winning freedom for her husband.”
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