Sunday, October 14, 2012

Laura Pollán: One year after her untimely death

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo
 Over the twitter account of former prisoner of conscience and independent labor activist Ivan Hernandez Carillo we obtained excerpts of the statement made by Laura Pollán's daughter, Laura Librada honoring the life of her mother who was the founder of the Ladies in White one year after her untimely death:
"The government managed to wrest Laura Pollán from our hands, but it will never succeed removing her from our hearts.... Laura Pollán emerged to stay, for her courage, intelligence, cunning, perseverance, ability ... and infinite love of country. The government has not been able to erase Laura Pollán and will never be able to, her legacy continues, multiplies and strengthens. Laura Pollán belongs to all Cubans who seek a better Cuba, a world of love and a beautiful peace on earth."
Hard to believe that it has already been a year and at the same time only 365 days ago that Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died on October 14, 2011 at 7:50pm at the age of 63. I still remember getting the terrible news and attending a special prayer service for her at Our Lady of Charity that same night. Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet wrote about what had led to the death of the Ladies in White founder titled: A medical analysis of the painful, tragic and unnecessary death of Laura Pollán. The official cause of death was heart failure, but if there was one thing Laura had plenty of was heart and it never failed. Her courage and persistence led to the release of 75 Cuban prisoners of conscience imprisoned in 2003, including her own husband, Hector Maseda Gutierrez. Unlike the German housewives who took to the streets to protest their Jewish husbands incarceration and shipment to concentration camps in Nazi Germany  and then ended their protests when their husbands were returned to them, these Cuban women continued the struggle for human rights in Cuba.

In the days prior to her sudden illness and death Laura Pollán made a number of prescient statements outlining her commitment to the struggle for human rights in Cuba:

"We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights.” (September 24, 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)
 Five days afterwards she was taken suddenly ill and a week later she was dead, but the group she founded did not falter or disappear. Berta Soler became the spokesperson of the Ladies in White and this movement has continued to demand that the human rights of the Cuban people be respected. The Cuban government ignored the request made by Amnesty International that the rights of Cubans to honor and remember Laura Inés Pollán Toledo be respected as it engaged in acts of repudiation and arrests of women trying to reach the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana. Nevertheless, a sizable group of women made it and dressed in white with the image of Laura Inés Pollán Toledo carrying gladiolas marched through 5th Avenue today with chants of freedom. The new spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, Berta Soler spoke very plainly about the circumstances surrounding the death of Laura Pollán and thanks to the real time reporting of Ivan Hernandez Carrillo it is reproduced below:
 "You know very well that the Cuban government had to do with the departure of Laura Pollan, she was strong and we have lost her. Likewise it happened to us with Oswaldo 
PayáWe will continue our peaceful, nonviolent struggle for human rights to be respected, for a new Cuba."
The past year has been a difficult one beginning with the death of  Laura Pollán followed by the death of Wilman Villar Mendoza on January 19, 2012 and the deaths of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012. Today Oswaldo Payá's daughter, Rosa María Payá, tweeted: "Our solidarity and prayers are today with the Ladies in White and the family of Laura Pollán on this first anniversary."

The nonviolent struggle for a democratic change in Cuba has suffered great losses over the past year but the movement continues to grow and increase in its activism because of the fundamental human need to be free and because of the leadership of courageous Cubans such as Laura Inés Pollán Toledo. We remember her struggles, sacrifices, victories and pray for her today while continuing the shared struggle for freedom.

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