HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 15 — Laura Pollan, the main leader of the Ladies in White, has died of a respiratory failure caused by a severe lung infection, informed Marta Beatriz Roque, another dissident leader. This information was confirmed by one of the doctors who treated Pollan.
The 63-year-old opponent of the Castro government was being treated at the Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana since this past October 7 due to an aggressive virus that had lodged in her lung and had forced doctors to admit her into the intensive care unit.
According to family sources, tests conducted by the Instituto Pedro Kuri (which specializes in tropical diseases) determined that Mrs. Pollan had contracted a respiratory syncytial virus, a situation that was further complicated by her having contracted dengue fever.
Another leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, said that the conduct of government doctors in relation to the dissident and her family members was appropriate, adding that they were “fulfilling their oath to save the patient, regardless of ideology.”
Laura Pollan was the wife of economist Hector Maseda, one of the 75 dissidents imprisoned in 2003. Along with other wives of political prisoners, she created an organization to fight for their release, which was obtained starting last year.
For seven years their walks down Fifth Avenue in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood were the only expressions of opposition that existed on the island. Government supporters, mostly women, attempted dozens of counter-demonstrations to get them to desist, but without success.
The Ladies in White movement and its political evolution
Last year the Catholic Church intervened on their behalf. The Cuban government authorized their protests and began negotiations with the clergy and the Spanish government, which culminated in the release of all prisoners of conscience in Cuba, including Laura’s husband.
Nonetheless the Ladies in White continued their protest activities, becoming a dissident organization that was more political than they had been during their early years of activity.
A stumbling block
Following the release of the political prisoners, the attitude of the authorities toward the group became more unyielding, and on repeated occasions hundreds of young people prevented the women from leaving their homes to hold new demonstrations.
Even the Catholic Church distanced itself from the group since the women’s initial humanitarian aim — the release of the prisoners — had acquired more of a political tone, making it difficult for the religious institution to defend them.
Nevertheless the women continued their public activities and tried to maintain their visibility on the street, something that virtually no dissident group has accomplished in the past 10 years. There’s no doubt that this activism is what distinguishes the group.
The absence of Laura Pollan will be felt by the Ladies in White, who — in addition to having to face greater repression from government supporters — will also have competition from new dissident splinter groups formed by some of the recently released prisoners.