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Posted March 21, 2005 by publisher in Cuba Human Rights

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By VANESSA ARRINGTON | Associated Press Writer

With shouts of “Viva Fidel,” female government supporters interrupted a weekly silent protest by wives of political prisoners held after Sunday church services.
The noisy standoff after Palm Sunday Mass at a Havana church appeared to be peaceful, but tensions ran high, prompting curious neighbors to leave their homes and cars to slow down for a better look.

It was the first such confrontation since the wives began the weekly protest shortly after the government crackdown in the spring of 2003 that put 75 activists behind bars. Cuba accused the dissidents of working with the United States to undermine Fidel Castro’s government — a charge the activists and Washington denied.

Over the last year, the dissidents’ wives, known as the “Ladies in White,” have become increasingly bold, staging candlelight vigils and public protests — practically unheard of in communist Cuba.

Some credit their pressure with leading to last year’s release of 14 of the 75 prisoners, but supporters of Castro’s government say the dissidents deserve to be behind bars and they feel little sympathy for the wives.

“We cannot let them damage the revolution,” said 70-year-old Aida Diaz, who said the counterprotest by about 150 women was organized by the Federation of Cuban Women.

She said the march outside the church by about 30 prisoners’ wives dressed all in white and holding flowers “goes against the country.”

The Cuban government launched the weeklong crackdown on March 18, 2003, rounding up the dissidents and later sentencing them to long prison terms.

While the wives demanded the release of their husbands, the protesters from the Federation of Cuban Woman called for the release of the “Five Heroes” ó five Cuban intelligence agents serving long terms in U.S. federal prisons.

Even before the Mass at the Santa Rita Roman Catholic Church in western Havana, several dozen state security officers in civilian clothes, some of them discreetly talking into walkie-talkies, were stationed outside the church, indicating that this week’s protest would be different.

After the prisoners’ wives left the sanctuary and began walking down a nearby avenue, the pro-Castro protesters marched aggressively toward them, waving tiny paper red, white and blue flags commonly used at government organized rallies.

The prisoners’ wives looked stunned by the protesters, who chanted “Viva Fidel” ó “Long Live Fidel!” ó and carried a full-sized Cuban flag and banner of revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

The government supporters surrounded the “Ladies in White” as they tried to continue walking. The wives cut their weekly ritual short, returning to the church steps then, after briefly gathering in a nearby park, going to a bus stop.

Alicia Rojas, the 34-year-old daughter of prisoner Jesus Manuel Rojas, said she would not be deterred.

“I feel more strength and courage to defend my father who is a political prisoner in this country,” she said.

Bertha Soler Fernandez, whose husband is prisoner Angel Moya Acosta, agreed.

“The government feels powerless to respond to us so it sends us these people to give a response,” she said.

The government protesters followed the women to the bus stop, shouting and shaking their fists as the bus drove away with the women on board.

“We are not going to permit them to take our streets,” Mileides Chavez, the general secretary of the Federation of Cuban Women for the municipality of Playa, yelled into a megaphone as the group gathered in the park.

The confrontation came a day after scores of neighbors broke up a protest by little-known dissident physician Dr. Darcy Ferrer, striking him with sticks and ripping down posters of prisoners’ photographs he had placed on the side of his house.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on March 21, 2005 by yumaguy with 176 total posts

    Wow. Looks like this year is turning out really interesting for Cuba news. Fidel won’t dare sic his police goons on the white angels because that’ bad intl. press. So instead, he unleashes a contingent of easily manipulated old hags to harrass them. I guess they get a bonus stale, tasteless chicken for that piece of work.

    Man, this is perverse!  I learned how dysfunctional Cuba is during several visits over the past few years but this incident really takes the cake.

    Just goes to show how a JINETERO like Castro can take something like an embargo and twist it to his advantage. The powers that be in Miami squeeze his balls harder. . .Fidel in turn squeezes the people even harder. . .the people in turn become even more rapacious and cannibalistic, i.e., the “jineterismo,” the “resolviendo,” the “chivatos,” the scams, the stealing, the skimming, etc.

    That’ the crazy part of the whole embargo thing which is why I’m against it. Supposedly, an embargo is supposed to starve the regime which will bring about a popular uprising. But most cubanos are too busy in “survival mode” to be thinking about protesting in the streets. Besides, they know Fidel’ getting really old so best just to wait. Of course, Fidel is playing a time-based game as well. As long as he keeps “stalling” the inevitable, as long as he can neutralize his enemies, he unofficially “wins.”

    Too bad the neocons didn’t try their idea on Cuba first. But they don’t really care about a poor Latin-American country. And now that we’re stuck in MESS-opotamia, the U.S. will continue to wag its fingers safely from afar, but not really do anything about it.

    Meanwhile the islanders are turning more against each other in the struggle for survival. And on the other side of the Florida straits, the older generation of Cuban-Americans is cracking down on the younger generation in terms of limiting visits and remittances. It’ starting to look like cubano against cubano.

    It seems the only way out of this bizarre farce will be the long-awaited death of a certain bearded dictator. If that turns out to be the case, shame on ALL sides, including the U.S.!!


  2. Follow up post #2 added on March 22, 2005 by I-taoist with 213 total posts

    In a world full of idealogues, in this case Castro vs. Bush, dumb and dumber prevail.  Each side shouts at the other with neither side hearing the other.  One extreme is met by another.  The rest of us, caught in the middle can only shake our heads in dismay.  It would be really funny, if not for its tragic effect.  One extremist opposing another extremist; a formula for perpetual failure and suffering.  In the meantime “average Joe’” just try and survive, and endure the miserable fallout from such darkness compounded.  Reason, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, progress; all are casualities in this atmosphere of heated hate rhetoric.

    These ferverent “counter-protester” women, probably wives of those few who benefit from the communist regime, or those of equal idealogical delusion, are to be pitied really.  Think about their ideals versus the reality they see around them every day.  Think what killing the scapegoat of our embargo would do to their world.

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