The late Laura Pollan (above, speaking on a cell phone) was leader and a founder of the dissident group Ladies in White, which held weekly marches in Havana to call for the release of political prisoners. Ladies in White included many mothers, wives and daughters of political prisoners.
A painting of Laura Pollan, late leader of the dissident group Ladies in White, is flanked by flowers, candles and a Cuban flag during a gathering in her honor at her home in Havana, Cuba, Saturday Oct. 15, 2011.AP
A government supporter, right, chants revolutionary slogans as members of dissident group Ladies in White hold up images of late dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo on the first anniversary of his death in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday Feb. 23, 2011. Ladies in White is a group of relatives of Cuban dissidents who were or are still imprisoned. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano)AP
Members of Cuban dissident group Ladies in White gather in a home to commemorate the anniversary of the 2003 government crackdown on dissidents in Havana, Cuba, Friday March 18, 2011. Some 75 activists, intellectuals and social commentators were arrested in the 2003 sweep and sentenced to long jail terms. The government agreed last year to free all that remained in prison, and two of those arrested in the crackdown are still being held. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano)
Members of Cuba's dissident group Ladies in White hold up photographs of the late political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo during their weekly march in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011. Tamayo died on Feb. 23 following a lengthy hunger strike. Cuba freed Guido Sigler , a prominent political prisoner, on Friday and the Roman Catholic Church said Angel Moya, another political prisoner, would be released soon and allowed to stay in the country. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano)AP2011
Laura Pollán, a human rights activist who founded Ladies in White, a Cuba-based group of female relatives of political prisoners, is being posthumously honored by the National Endowment for Democracy on Wednesday evening.
Pollán, who died in October, had been a high school teacher with no involvement in politics until her husband, Héctor Maseda, became one of 75 anti-regime activists arrested by Cuban authorities in 2003 as part of a crackdown on dissidents.
Her initial small gatherings in her home with the wives, mothers and daughters of other political prisoners became the Ladies in White – so called because of the all-white attire of the women – and held weekly marches in Havana. In Spanish, they are called Las Damas de Blanco.
Laura Pollán and the quiet dignity of the Ladies in White have courageously voiced the core desire of the Cuban people and of people everywhere to live in liberty.
- President Barack Obama
Pollán became one of the best-known and most vocal opposition figures in Cuba, risking arrest herself, and reprisals of others acting on behalf of the Communist regime.
She is being honored with the Democracy Service Medal, which was first awarded in 1999 to two people: Lech Walesa, former Polish president and founder of the Solidarity trade union movement, and Lane Kirkland, the former president of the AFL-CIO.
In a statement released Wednesday, President Obama said: “Laura Pollán and the quiet dignity of the Ladies in White have courageously voiced the core desire of the Cuban people and of people everywhere to live in liberty."
“Through Laura Pollán’s and the Damas’ brave actions, the world bore witness to the repressive actions of Cuban authorities, eventually leading to the release of political prisoners wrongly jailed in the Spring of 2003,” the president continued. “To Las Damas de Blanco who will watch or listen to today’s ceremony, you have our utmost respect for your efforts to stand up for the rights of the Cuban people.”
Pollán’s husband was released from prison in February – he was among one of the last of the Group of 75, as it came to be known, to be set free.
Pollán and the other Ladies in White continued their weekly marches, expanding the focus to the general practice of jailing dissidents, and human rights violations.
“We are going to continue,” she told the Associated Press. “We are fighting for freedom and human rights. 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.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached email@example.com
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente