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    Castro vs. the Ladies in White

    THE AMERICAS – AUGUST 29, 2011

    Castro vs. the Ladies in White

    Rocks, iron bars and sticks are no match for the gladiolas and courage
    of these peaceful Cuban protesters.
    By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY

    Rocks and iron bars were the weapons of choice in a government assault
    on a handful of unarmed women on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba on
    the afternoon of Aug. 7. According to a report issued by the Paris-based
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the beatings were
    savage and "caused them injuries, some considerable."

    It was not an isolated incident. In the past two months attacks on
    peaceful women dissidents, organized by the state security apparatus,
    have escalated. Most notable is the intensity with which the regime is
    moving to try to crush the core group known as the Ladies in White.

    This is not without risk to the regime, should the international
    community decide to pay attention and apply pressure on the white-elite
    regime the way it did in opposition to apartheid in South Africa. But
    the decision to take that risk suggests that the 52-year-old
    dictatorship in Havana is feeling increasingly insecure. The legendary
    bearded macho men of the "revolution," informed by the trial of a caged
    Hosni Mubarak in an Egyptian courtroom, apparently are terrified by the
    quiet, prayerful, nonviolent courage of little more than 100 women. No
    totalitarian regime can shrug off the fearless audacity these ladies
    display, or the signs that their boldness is spreading.

    The Castro brothers' goons are learning that they will not be easily
    intimidated. Take, for example, what happened that same Aug. 7 morning
    in Santiago: The women, dressed in white and carrying flowers, had
    gathered after Sunday Mass at the cathedral for a silent procession to
    protest the regime's incarceration of political prisoners. Castro
    supporters and state security officials, "armed with sticks and other
    blunt objects," according to FIDH, assaulted the group both physically
    and verbally. The ladies were then dragged aboard a bus, taken outside
    the city and dropped off on the side of a highway.

    Some of them regrouped and ventured out again in the afternoon, this
    time to hold a public vigil for their cause. That's when they were met
    by another Castro onslaught. On the same day thugs set upon the homes of
    former political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer and another activist. Six
    people, including Mr. Ferrer's wife and daughter, were sent to the
    hospital with contusions and broken bones, according to FIDH.

    The Ladies in White first came on the scene in the aftermath of the
    infamous March 2003 crackdown in which 75 independent journalists and
    librarians, writers and democracy advocates were rounded up and handed
    prison sentences of six to 28 years. The wives, mothers and sisters of
    some of them began a simple act of protest. On Sundays they would gather
    at the Havana Cathedral for Mass and afterward they would march carrying
    gladiolas in a silent call for the prisoners' release.

    In 2005 the Ladies in White won Europe's prestigious Sakharov prize for
    their courage. Cellphones that caught the regime's brutality against
    them on video helped get their story out. By 2010 they had so
    embarrassed the dictatorship internationally that a deal was struck to
    deport their imprisoned loved ones along with their family to Spain.

    But some prisoners refused the deal and some of the ladies stayed in
    Cuba. Others joined them, calling themselves "Ladies in Support." The
    group continued its processions following Sunday Mass in Havana, and
    women on the eastern end of the island established the same practice in
    Santiago.

    Laura Pollan, whose husband refused to take the offer of exile in Spain
    and was later released from prison, is a key member of the group. She
    and her cohorts have vowed to continue their activism as long as even
    one political prisoner remains jailed. Last week I spoke with her by
    phone in Havana, and she told me that when the regime agreed to release
    all of the 75, "it thought that the Ladies in White would disappear. Yet
    the opposite happened. Sympathizers have been joining up. There are now
    82 ladies in Havana and 34 in Santiago de Cuba." She said that the
    paramilitary mobs have the goal of creating fear in order to keep the
    group from growing. But the movement is spreading to other parts of the
    country, places where every Sunday there are now marches.

    This explains the terror that has rained down on the group in Santiago
    and surrounding suburbs on successive Sundays since July and on other
    members in Havana as recently as Aug. 18.

    Last Tuesday, when four women dressed in black took to the steps of the
    capitol building in Havana chanting "freedom," a Castro bully tried to
    remove them. Amazingly, the large crowd watching shouted for him to
    leave them alone. Eventually uniformed agents carried them off. But the
    incident, caught on video, is evidence of a new chapter in Cuban
    history, and it is being written by women. How it ends may depend
    heavily on whether the international community supports them or simply
    shields its eyes from their torment.

    Write to O'Grady@wsj.com.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904875404576530302503295010.html

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