Photo: Cuba's Ladies in White
Havana’s Ladies in White, who advocate for the liberation of political prisoners, have asked the Catholic Church to mediate with President Raul Castro over harassment which they were subjected to in August.
The Spanish news agency EFE reported that Berta Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White and wife of ex-prisoner Angel Moya, told journalists that the chancellor for the Archdiocese of Havana, Msgr. Ramon Suarez Polcari, and the archdiocesan spokesman, Orlando Marquez, were very receptive to the request, made in a meeting Aug. 30.
EFE said that Soler, speaking for the women’s group, said they asked the church for help because the women have been subjected to “harassment, repudiation and repression” over their efforts to bring attention to the situation of political prisoners.
In the summer of 2010, Havana Archbishop Jaime Ortega Alamino and other Cuban bishops intervened with the government after harassment of the women escalated. For years the women and other family members of prisoners have waged peaceful protests, typically marching silently, dressed in white, after Mass on Sundays.
Not long after the church leaders first wrote to Castro in May 2010 and then began meeting with government authorities, Cardinal Ortega announced that the government had promised to release the last of 75 prisoners who had been held since a 2003 crackdown on dissidents. Those prisoners and others, totaling 126 people, were released over the next nine months. Most went with their families to Spain, although a few were permitted to remain in Cuba.
This summer, the Ladies in White have reported various types of harassment, including the arrest of a few of their members, both in Havana and in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.
On Aug. 18 the group reported being stopped during a peaceful protest in Havana by people in plain clothes who were acting on behalf of the government. The Havana march was intended to bring attention to being harassed in Santiago, they told reporters.
Soler told EFE that they asked Msgr. Suarez and Marquez to take their concerns to Cardinal Ortega and ask him to raise the issue with the government.
The women planned a march in Havana Sept. 8 to mark the feast of the patroness of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.