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Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Call to Action in Remembrance of Laura Inés Pollán Toledo

"As long as this government is around there will be prisoners because while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story." - Laura Pollán

Laura Pollán, you stay with us...

We prayed for Laura Pollán to make a speedy recovery following the rapid onset of the illness but it was not to be. The illness claimed her life in the space of seven days. Cuba is governed by a dictatorship whose intelligence service was trained by the East German Stasi and that had close operational relations with the Soviet KGB.  The facts are that East German dissidents died of rare forms of cancers they believe had been given to them by the Stasi. Evidence gathered after the fall of the Berlin Wall indicates this to be the case. The Soviet KGB had also carried out similar practices. It is for this reason and the fact that the Ladies in White and their leadership poised an existential threat to the continued existence of the regime that many harbor suspicions surrounding the illness that took the life of this courageous woman. The dictatorship in Cuba is not blind to what happens in other parts of the world. How women in civil war torn Liberia not only brought and end to the bloody conflict using nonviolent means but also succeeded in removing from power the brutal dictator that had ruled the country for years: Charles Taylor. There is no concrete evidence but there is plenty of suspicion because the Cuban dictatorship has a long and bloody track record.

However, now is not the time to focus on how Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died but rather how she lived. She always embraced life not death. Refusing to engage in hunger strikes but remaining open to almost any other nonviolent tactic to pressure Cuban officials into freeing her husband and the rest of the Cuban political prisoners. Over time she evolved and came to the conclusion that for there to be an end to political prisoners in Cuba there needed to be a change of the entire system. Through the courageous actions and clear eyed strategic vision of the Ladies in White they played a decisive role in obtaining the freedom of the group of 75 imprisoned in March of 2003. The last of the prisoners were released in the Spring of 2011. The longest prison sentence had condemned Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia to spend 28 years of his life behind bars. If not for the Ladies in White and international solidarity campaigns the last of the Cuban Spring prisoners would not have been freed until 2031. A generation ago many Cuban political prisoners served out their 30 year sentences. If not for Laura and the Ladies in White it would be happening again now.

Laura Pollán may no longer physically be here with us but the Free Cuba Foundation makes the following proposal to people of good will everywhere. A call to action to let others know about Laura Pollán and the courageous Ladies in White. What they accomplished and how they went about it through strategic nonviolent resistance. Furthermore over twitter we observed that Yoani Sanchez has already designed and is wearing a t-shirt that she describes as a small tribute to Laura. Furthermore, that t-shirts be designed with the image of Laura Pollán prominently displayed with a quote by her consistent with her call for non-violent change in Cuba. Lets be ambassadors for the message and legacy of Laura Pollán around the world and inside of Cuba.

On the weekend that the Martin Luther King Jr. is finally being dedicated it is fitting that the world is also recognizing and honoring another human rights defender and icon of non-violent civil disobedience that is Laura Pollán. Martin Luther King Jr and Laura Pollan died before their time. Martin Luther King Jr. was just 39 when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. Laura got sick and was hospitalized and over the course of a week her condition steadily deteriorated dying on October 15, 2011 at the age of 63. Despite their lives being shortened they managed to do so much with the little time they had. Let us remember and honor their courage, sacrifice and accomplishments.

Laura Pollan front and center with other Ladies in White

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A White Gladioli for Laura Pollan: Lets honor her nonviolent victory

May Havana be filled with white gladioli in memory of Laura Pollan and in tribute to Ladies in White who struggle for freedom. - Gina Montaner, October 15, 2011

Years ago reading Living in Truth by Vaclav Havel came across the concept of "anti-political politics" formulated by the future president of the Czech Republic while he was still a persecuted dissident in 1986. It came to mind once again when reading the following words by Laura Pollan quoted in an article in Reuters announcing her untimely death on October 14, 2011: "We continue being defenders of human rights. We are not politicians, we want freedom for the country, democracy."

Laura Pollan in her own words.

An additional level of irony arises. Havel auto-defined himself a dissident but he came from a family that was never in support of the communist regime forced on the people of Czechoslovakia while Laura Pollan had been a school teacher who avoided politics until her husband, Hector Maseda, who had been a nuclear physicist who, like Andrei Sakharov,  was demoted for his "ideological errors" and ended up an independent journalist, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003 for his dissident activities. Defending her husband, someone she loved, was the spark that led Laura Pollan into the realm of "anti-politics" and the defense of human rights.

In the same month that her husband and the rest of the group of the 75 were locked up and through sham show trials sentenced up to 28 years in prison the Ladies in White came into existence. Dressed in White on Sunday mornings carrying white gladioli in their hands they would nonviolently march to attend Mass at Santa Rita Church and pray and petition for their loved ones to be freed. Over the next 8 years they would suffer harassment, threats, acts of repudiation, beatings, detentions, injections and their homes searched by state security agents. At one point when the beatings from state security agents and their recruits got especially bad in the Spring of 2010 and the Ladies were beginning to suffer fractures and other more serious injuries Laura Pollan, herself with a cast and sling for her arm, challenged the regime while marching in the street: "They can either kills us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens."

Laura Pollan
Less than a year later she was reunited with her husband and the remainder of the group of the 75 were released from prison. No doubt the dictatorship thought the Ladies in White would disappear. They counted wrong. The women had pledged to continue in their struggle until all political prisoners were free not just the group of the 75.  Also Laura Pollan recognized that as long as the current system existed new political prisoners would be a reality.

Last night her husband who stood by her side and accompanied her over the past week in the hospital carried out an honor guard at her wake following her untimely death at the age of 63. The Free Cuba Foundation remembers and honors this courageous Cuban woman and will seek to follow her example.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vigil for Freedom of Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, her husband Julio Ignacio Leon Perez and all political prisoners

Take Action for Sara Marta Fonseca!

Sara Marta Fonseca

Today, Wednesday October 5, 2011 in Miami, Florida there will be a vigil held in demand for the immediate and unconditional release of Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo and her husband Julio Ignacio Leon Perez, as well as for all Cuban prisoners of conscience.

The event will be held just outside of Versailles Restaurant  next to the take out window in the front. It is located at 3555 Southwest 8th Street Miami, FL 33135-4196. The vigil will begin at 8:00 pm and is being sponsored by the Cuba-freedom organization ‘Plantados Hasta la Libertad de Cuba’.

The event is open to all people of good will, in order to demand freedom for all those Cubans who have been imprisoned for defending freedom and human rights.  More information can be found on the Facebook page created for this event.

Take action right now for Sara Marta Fonseca and sign an online petition demanding her release from prison. It will only take a couple of minutes to demonstrate your solidarity with this courageous woman.

What happened?

The Cuban Democratic Directorate reported that "at approximately 6:00pm on September 24, as Resistance members prepared to engage in a nationwide pots and pans protest scheduled for that night" when state security agents organized a repudiation rally outside the home of Fonseca Quevedo, where several activists were attacked, beaten, and detained. Among these were: Sarah Marta Fonseca Quevedo, her husband Julio Ignacio León Pérez, Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”, Hermógenes Inocencio Guerrero Gómez, Ramsés Miranda Camejo and Eriberto Liranza Romero.

Hablemos press captured the act of repudiation and the attacks on Sara Martha by two attackers. First by an unidentified man who charged at her and secondly by a woman who started hitting her from the back. She managed to evade her attackers only to see that her husband had been knocked to the ground and was being kicked in beaten by a group of state security agents. She runs over to try and break it up, but instead is detained and badly beaten.

Pedazos de la Isla reports on their current state:
The situation of the dissident couple continues to be grim, considering that they have been behind bars since Saturday, September 24th and have remained in hunger strike since then.  ‘Julito’ Fonseca, the eldest son of Fonseca and Leon, informed a few days ago that he was able to see his mother who, according to him, had many marks of physical blows but had remained very firm in her convictions against the tyranny, choosing to maintain her hunger strike until she is freed.  Meanwhile, it has been reported that his father was interned in the Carlos Finlay Hospital of Havana, due to a drop in sugar levels and other health ailments, products of a severe beating and also a hunger strike.