Ladies in White call for end to government repression and violence

Via the Miami Herald:

Dissident women in Cuba want government harassment halted

The Ladies in White want the church to intercede on behalf of dissidents in eastern Cuba, who have been harassed by government-organized mobs.

Cuba’s dissident Ladies in White met with an aide to Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega on Tuesday to lay out their concerns over the recent government crackdowns on their supporters and other activists in the eastern province of Santiago.

“Our principal worry is to stop the beatings and harassments against the Ladies in White in all of Cuba, but also that there’s been too much violence against other peaceful opposition activists,” said Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler.

Soler said that she, Ladies in White leader Laura Pollán and her daughter Laura Maria met at the office of the Havana archdiocese with Msgr. Ramón Suarez Polcari, in charge of non-religious affairs, and media spokesman Orlando Márquez.

Soler said the women had expected to meet with Ortega but were told he had returned on Thursday from a busy trip to Spain and was still recuperating. The women were not put off by his absence, she added.

Polcari “received our concerns and will relay them to the cardinal, who will be in touch with the government and bring us back an answer,” she told El Nuevo Herald by phone just after the 80-minute meeting.

Ortega interceded with Cuban ruler Raúl Castro last spring, when government-organized mobs attacked the Ladies in White as they marched after Sunday mass in Havana to demand the release of political prisoners. The harassments quickly stopped.

But members and supporters of the Ladies in White in eastern Cuba faced renewed harassments as they tried to establish their right to attend Sunday masses at the cathedral in Santiago, the island’s second-largest city, and stage street march afterwards.

Women activists in and around Santiago have complained of police beatings, sexual harassments and detentions of one or two days to keep them from reaching the cathedral.

Police also used tear gas and deployed a riot control unit on Sunday to block a planned protest march in the nearby town of Palma Soriano. The 27 men arrested in that incident were last reported still in police custody.

Soler said the Havana Ladies in White have been asking to meet with Ortega since July 18 to complain about the violence in eastern Cuba. When they were called to Tuesday’s meeting, they expected to meet with him but were not specifically told he would be there.

“As human beings we understand that he’s recuperating,’ she said. Even if he had attended the meeting, Soler added, he would not have been able to provide immediate answers to the women’s concerns.