Ladies In White, Cuba Dissident Group, Blocked From Leaving Home
HAVANA -- A raucous pro-government crowd shouting insults and slogans blocked a group of Cuban dissidents from launching a protest march in Havana on Saturday.
Carrying placards and waving tiny Cuban flags, hundreds of people massed outside the home of Laura Pollan, one of the leaders of the dissident group Ladies in White, more than an hour before the group had planned to march three miles (five kilometers) from her working-class Havana neighborhood to a church.
"Down with the worms!" and "Get out!" they shouted at the 34 white-clad dissidents gathered inside. Many in the pro-government crowd were women and university students, and they strung huge Cuban and revolutionary flags from the roof of Pollan's home, staking their claim to the street and also sheltering themselves from the sun.
When some of the Ladies tried to push their way outside to start the march, they were blocked from leaving the doorway when a scrum broke out, with government security agents standing between the two groups. Authorities pulled a bus up to the door of the residence, but it soon left without any of the Ladies on board. It was unclear why the bus was brought to the scene.
Beyond the pushing and yelling, no violence broke out. Crowds often gather to shout at Cuban dissidents in so-called acts of repudiation. The government claims the acts are spontaneous rejections of anti-revolutionary sentiment, although little effort is made to conceal coordination with state security agents on the scene.
In recent days, pro-government blogs have called for Cuban youth to turn out in counterprotest.
The Ladies in White, who formed to press for the release of their husbands, intellectuals and social commentators jailed in a 2003 crackdown, have historically marched to commemorate the day of the Virgin of Mercedes, the patron saint of prisoners.
Their loved ones were freed over the past year under a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church, but the Ladies say they intend to keep protesting for greater freedom. They have refocused their agenda by demanding freedom for some 50 prisoners convicted of politically motivated but violent crimes like sabotage and hijacking.
Pollan said her home had been monitored since the previous day and she didn't know why her group was not allowed to march Saturday as they have on Sept. 24 in past years. She accused the state of coordinating the act of repudiation.
"These are people who are brought in because they're always the same ones," Pollan said.