Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Diana and Laura: A tale of two women in Cuba

''We should never, ever give up!''- Diana Nyad (2013)

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

Diana Nyad and Laura Pollán: Profiles in Courage and Persistance
Two women in their sixth decade of life taking up challenges that would lead anyone to pause and reconsider.

Diana Nyad, after several attempts at age 64, swam without a shark cage from Havana to Key West breaking a world record that will not soon be duplicated. Back in 1979 she made the swim from Bimini to Florida a world record at the time. Diana also confronted domestic abuse as a child from her stepfather and later as an adolescent from her coach. A courageous woman she overcame these traumas and demonstrated throughout her swimming career and in her life as a motivational speaker the power to overcome any obstacle.

Laura Pollán beginning in 2003, when her husband an independent journalist was arrested, tried in a summary trial and sentenced him 20 years in prison for his nonviolent dissent, was one of the founders of a woman's movement, The Ladies in White, that began demanding their loved ones freedom. These women, led by Laura, would regularly take to the streets in silent protest marches. They confronted state security agents and violent mobs sent to stop them. Laura suffered libelous attacks, physical assaults, fractured bones,  being injected with unknown substances but through it all she refused to give up. She died under suspicious circumstances on October 14, 2011 while under the custody of state security at a local hospital in Cuba. 

A Cuban doctor described it as a death by purposeful medical neglect but she had accomplished the initial goal of the Ladies in White: the release of all the activists, including her husband who had been arrested in the 2003 Black Cuban Spring. This was a historic accomplishment not seen over the past half century of the Cuban dictatorship.  Nevertheless, the transformation of the movement into a human rights movement seeking changes in the laws of the state is what most likely led to the decision to eliminate this courageous woman who passed away at the age of 65.

Diana Nyad in addition to her accomplishments has spoken out about abuse of children as a cultural problem that needs to be addressed. She understands the need to denounce the silent violence visited upon children by predators.

In Cuba young women have been mutilated for defending the ladies in white while mothers have been threatened with sexual violence and in at least one case with the rape of her five year old daughter. This was done by agents of the regime and are examples of institutional violence against women.

This past Saturday as Diana Nyad began her historic swim a Cuban mother and her son were targeted by government agents in a vehicle who twice tried to run them down and kill them on Saturday. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this has happened and there is a previous case of a woman who was killed following this pattern of attacks in 2011.

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