Saturday, October 15, 2011

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo: From school teacher to nonviolent human rights icon

“Complete civil disobedience is rebellion without the element of violence in it.” – Mohandas Gandhi

Laura Pollan’s own words demonstrate the evolution and transformation of this Cuban woman from an apolitical school teacher seeking the freedom of her long time lover to a human rights defender seeking the freedom of her husband and all Cubans. Over the space of eight years confronting all that the Cuban dictatorship could hurl at her and the rest of Ladies in White she and the other women were transformed. She married her longtime partner, Hector Maseda, in the "re-education" offices of La Pendiente prison in central Santa Clara province in December 2004 while he was serving his unjust 20 year prison sentence. The dictatorship's strategy has is to break up the families of the political prisoners in order to increase their isolation. The marriage was both an act of love and defiance. Although she is now no longer physically present, her words live on.

"For the first time I feel the church has made a strong impact. At other times it has been very lukewarm. Now it talks about the dissidents. Whether or not [the bishops] think like them, they support them." (2003)

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)

"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)

The dictatorship in Cuba thought it could break Laura Pollan’s spirit but instead with each new attack and outrage her defiance and awareness of the true nature of the regime only increased. Just eight months ago they gave in and returned her husband to her after eight long years of unjust imprisonment.

Reunited in 2011

They thought with that they could stop Laura and the rest of the Ladies in White. Perhaps that might have worked in April of 2003 but after so many years of seeing the true face of the dictatorship and its oppression of the Cuban people it was too late. Now the Ladies in White who remain to carry on the struggle will rise to the occasion. Never doubt the resolve of a Cuban woman. Today they mourn and tomorrow they continue to march for freedom.

Ladies in White honor guard for Laura Pollan

"We're going to continue our peaceful fight for the liberation of all political prisoners. We'll also continue defending the human rights of the Cuban people." - Bertha Soler

"We plan to march tomorrow on Fifth Avenue like we do every Sunday. It will be a special march for Laura." - Bertha Soler

What of the men who these women defend? They too will be at their side in this nonviolent struggle for change. The man whose imprisonment sparked Laura Pollan to action in deep mourning for his wife called on the Ladies to continue their struggle. Hector Maseda was one of the last to be freed, first because he had refused to go into exile and secondly because he had demanded the false charges under which he had been convicted to be dropped. He had to be forcibly taken out of prison against his will by the prison authorities because they had only granted him parole. He is a stubborn and courageous man.

"You have to keep going as you have until now, with intelligence, not accepting provocations. You have become a dagger in the middle of the heart of the government.” – Hector Maseda

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