Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Honoring Ladies in White Founder Laura Pollán and Cuba's Call to Freedom Remembered

Cuba's Yara Proclamation 144 years later and honoring Laura Pollán one year after her death

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo:  February 13, 1948 – October 14, 2011
144 years ago on October 10, 1868 a Cuban planter and lawyer, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo, sounding a bell gathered his slaves together and told them that they were free and if they chose they could join him and his compatriots in the struggle for a new nation. The nearest town to the plantation was called Yara and this cry for freedom became known as the "Grito de Yara" the (Proclamation of Yara). This initial act led to ten years of war with Spain and although ending in a frustrating and temporary peace under continued Spanish rule it did much to forge the Cuban character.

Less than three months ago not far from Yara in the same province of Bayamo, two Cuban patriots Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante, died under suspicious circumstances in what appears to have been an extra-judicial killing disguised as a car accident.

In four days, the one year observance of a tragic anniversary: the untimely death of opposition leader Laura Inés Pollán Toledo through what a Cuban medical doctor described as medical neglect. On October 14, 2011, Laura Pollan, one of the founders of the human rights movement the Ladies in White died after years of suffering physical and psychological assaults against her person. Finally, she would become a victim of the Cuban healthcare system that following the Castroite dictum of inside the revolution everything outside of it nothing - would suffer and die in a matter of days while under the supervision of doctors who were revolutionaries first and doctors second.

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes never got to see Cuban independence nor even the end of the Ten Years war he died in 1874. Unfortunately, as with Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo we are seeing another generation of heroes continuing the drive for Cuban freedom but dying before achieving their goal. It is for this reason that we must remember and honor these men and women who have given their last full measure to free a country subjugated to more than six decades of dictatorship. Seven years of authoritarian tyranny with Fulgencio Batista followed by 53 years of totalitarian tyranny with the Castro brothers. The body count of innocent Cubans has been steadily rising these past six decades with brutal patterns of repression.

Let us remember Laura Pollan the school teacher who became an international human rights icon and sadly today a martyr of the Cuban freedom movement. On October 14 there will be activities inside and outside of Cuba to remember and honor this remarkable and courageous woman.  At the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana, Cuba they will open a guestbook throughout the day and invite people to come and pay their respects. No doubt throughout the world wide web there will be different efforts and actions underway to honor this Cuban mother and wife who was taken from us far to soon.

Thankfully her words and writing survive and we can learn from her wisdom and continue the struggle for a free Cuba.

"They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." (2010)

"We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights.” (September 24, 2011)

"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." (2011)

“If we must give our own lives in pursuit of the freedom of our Cuba that it be what God wants.” (September 24, 2011)

"We are not going to stop. If you have imprisoned our sisters thinking that we would give up, they are mistaken. We are very united (...) all the women's movements are very close." (October 2, 2011)

They tried to silence 75 voices, but now there are more than 75 voices shouting to the world the injustices the government has committed. (2004)

“We ask on this Christmas Day for freedom for our political prisoners and for the Cuban people to have a better future.” (2005)

“It's an extremely sad day for us, because Christmas is a family holiday. Since our husbands are not with us, our families cannot be complete.” (2005)

"We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families. We love our men." (2005)

“We would never have thought this would go on for so long.” (2006)

Human rights basically have been dead in our country for three years. Physically, I am tired. But I am still fighting, as long as I am alive and my husband is jailed, I am going to keep fighting. – Laura Pollan (2006)

“We are calling for freedom for all political prisoners.” (2006)

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