Una Dama de Blanco: Remembering Laura Pollan

 by Janine Mendes-Franco

Four days after her death, the online tributes are still pouring in for Laura Pollan, the late leader of one of Cuba's most recognized and respected opposition groups, Las Damas de Blanco. Many sites are focusing on the resolve of the group to continue their fight for human rights on the island in the wake of Pollan's death, in a climate of apparent state-sanctioned aggression. Front Line Defenders voiced its concern that:

The crackdown against human rights defenders continues unabated. This is evidenced by the actions of security forces in preventing dozens of human rights defenders, journalists and activists from attending the funeral mass of Laura Pollan. It is reported that several human rights defenders were beaten and arrested, and some had the flowers that they were taking to the church destroyed by police officers.

Babalu even translated a post about the arrest of a journalist, allegedly because of an article he wrote about “the possible relationship between the grave illness of Laura Pollan and the puncture inflicted on her at the last attack she suffered”, and wrote another post that questioned “the virtues of the Cuban health care system, but also about the capacity to translate this moral indignation into visible politics.”

Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter compared Pollan to Martin Luther King Jr.:

On the same weekend that the United States dedicated a national monument to the nonviolent resistance activist Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Cubans held a wake for Laura Pollán. King was a Baptist Minister and Laura a school teacher but they both shared the same methodology of struggle, nonviolent civic resistance. In both cases they left behind a movement that would continue after them.

As in the case of Martin Luther King Jr., Laura Pollán's spirit lives on and is present in the hearts of all who love freedom and detest injustice. Despite their physical absence tyrants and despots fear the example set by these nonviolent activists in successfully confronting injustice and the absence of freedom.

The post noted that Pollan “changed Cuba” - and that despite efforts to curtail the farewell activities for Pollan, “over 100 activists managed to circumvent the crackdown and attend Mass at Santa Rita Church then march through the streets of Cuba”:

Leading the march was Hector Maseda, Laura Pollán's husband and a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, with a photo of his wife on poster board that read ‘Laura Pollán Toledo, Present!' that he held up for all to see. At the end of the march the demonstrators chanted: Laura Pollán lives!

Many blog posts, though, were sincere tributes to a lady whose struggle touched the hearts of her compatriots and close friends. Reinaldo Escobar recalled his visit to the home of Laura Pollán and Héctor Maceda on October 2:

I intended to film a short interview with both. Half an hour earlier, Maceda had confirmed with me that it would be possible, but when I arrived at 963 Neptuno Street on the heart of Central Havana, he told me that his wife had begun to feel ill almost exactly when he’d hung up the phone.

I went to her room where I saw her shivering with cold and fever; she allowed me to make a couple of good humored medicinal jokes, and then she lowered the sheet covering her a little so I could see her smile. I touched her forehead and gave her a kiss.

I did not see her in that unspeakable wood gray box where I was told she was unrecognizable. I’m keeping her invincible smile.

Without Evasion wrote about her feelings upon hearing the news of Pollan's death:

It couldn’t be true that Laura had died. We were all sad, angry, feeling orphaned; we all wanted to confirm that this news was wrong. Perhaps it was a mistake, perhaps it was another provocation born of the perversity from official quarters, of those repressors disguised as doctors who swarmed around her hospital bed. How can a person with so much life and energy have died?

Then came other messages confirming the fact and we had to surrender to the fatality: that brave and dignified Lady like few others that had made the dictatorship tremble in fear and anger, had died.

But why, then, were the hounds still so frightened? Why did they allow only two hours in the middle of the night for the wake? Why did there have to be so many arrests in several of Cuba’s provinces to prevent Laura’s friends and fellow travelers coming to her funeral and offering tribute?

Regina Coyula was one of those who “crossed the city well after midnight, determined to arrive at the wake during the two hours conceded by the government to say goodbye to Laura Pollán”; she wrote:

I sang the national anthem there and controlled my emotions during the enormous silence that followed the coffin out between her companions in white, and those so much like me, who were there despite the haste and the late hour; I’m not a person for ceremonies, but I brushed the coffin in passing with my side as a way of saying goodbye.

I returned home on foot. I remembered the events of September 26 in front of her house, that act of repudiation organized down to the gnat’s eyebrow…but I remember above all the women who threateningly cornered Laura against the wall of her house while the conga roared: ‘machete, they’re small.' Sleep soundly while you can, women of the mob, because the dead are becoming ever more obstreperous.

Without Evasion's Miriam Celaya continued her post:

When I signed the book of condolences, opened in Laura’s house, there were already almost 300 signatures there, and friends kept coming. I couldn’t help but think of the triumph of Laura and her near resurrection: despite the repression, the vigilance and the hatred of the authorities, her house remained open, receiving the solidarity and love of hundreds of Cubans. In the little living room, a modest altar surrounded by flowers and candles, presided over by the Cuban flag, showed the respect of her companions in the marches and all the friends who honored her memory.

I left comforted, strengthened, optimistic. Laura not only hadn’t gone, but she will rise again in the spirit of the new Cuba…Laura is now and forever the soul lit with faith who announces the end of the dictatorship: the rebellion of the gladioli.

Global Voices: The World
 is Talking, Are You Listening?

This article by Janine Mendes-Francowas originally published by Global Voices Online, a website that translates and reports on blogs from around the world