Cuba: Interview with Laura Pollán

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Before falling ill last week, Las Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) leader Laura Pollán vowed not to give up her fight for peaceful democratic change in Cuba.

In an interview with Pulitzer grantee Tracey Eaton, Pollán said:

"As long as there are political prisoners, there will be Damas de Blanco fighting for their freedom."

She said her campaign to bring peaceful democratic change to Cuba had taken a toll, but she vowed not to give up.

"They’ve hit us. They’d kicked us. We’re going to continue. We know we’re in the right. Very soon Cuba will be free. People are waking up."

Pollán said her group is known even in the Sierra Maestra, where Fidel Castro had a secret hideout during the early days of the Cuban revolution. She conceded that her numbers are small. There are only 15 women left in Las Damas de Blanco group. But Pollán said dozens have joined a support group called Damas de Apoyo(Ladies in Support). She said:

"There are Damas de Blanco all over Cuba.”

State-run media organizations in Cuba call Pollán a “mercenary” who receives support from U.S. government-financed organizations. Pollán said her group is only asking the Cuban government to respect basic human rights. She said the socialist government responds by saying that dissidents are “mercenaries.”

"We want Cuba to be free and sovereign. Anyone who thinks differently loses his last name and becomes ‘Juan Mercenary.’"

She explained why Las Damas de Blanco didn’t disband after the last of the Group of 75 prisoners were released.

"We realized they weren’t the only political prisoners. There were many more."

She also spoke about the tendency of some Cuban democracy activists to seek change from abroad rather than stay behind on the island and fight.

"Our mission is here. You can fight from exile, but it isn’t the same."

Fellow members of Las Damas de Blanco marched Sunday along Quinta Avenida in Havana and prayed for the dissident leader, CubaEncuentro reported Oct. 9. The website said Pollán was in intensive care with acute respiratory problems caused by an as-yet-unknown virus. Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez said there has been an outpouring of support for Pollán. She wrote:

"The great number of friends and onlookers who have gathered outside the Calixto Garcia Hospital emergency room where she was admitted for acute respiratory distress is comforting. Considering all the insults, curses, and lies that have been launched against this woman on the official television, the reactions of so many Cubans in solidarity with her is a revelation."