Cuban bloggers are in mourning over the death of Laura Pollan, the former leader of the opposition group Las Damas de Blanco. Pollan was admitted to hospital on October 7, with an unidentified infection that reportedly turned out to be dengue fever. (The official cause of death, however, hasn't stopped some conspiracy theorists [es]).
She passed away last Friday. The sad news made its way across the blogosphere with lightning speed and bloggers, both within Cuba and throughout the diaspora, were soon posting their remembrances of the late human rights activist online.
Ziva Sahl, blogging at babalu, said:
I will forever hold in my heart the image of Laura Pollán, dressed in white, carrying gladiolus, leading the column of Las Damas de Blanco. How many of us waited every Sunday for news of their weekly act of brave resistance, their peaceful, dignified walk down Havana’s 5th Avenue, as we prayed for their safety, the release of their husbands and all political prisoners, and inspired by their bravery and dignity, dared to hope for more, so much more for Cuba.
The post goes on to compare Pollan to “China's Tank Man…but with one significant difference”:
Unlike China’s invisible rebel, Laura Pollán is not going to disappear. Just as the weak and cowardly Castro dictators were rendered helpless to stop Laura from marching in life, her cause, Libertad, Libertad, Libertad, will prevail. They will be unable to stop Cuba’s inevitable passage out of bondage to freedom.
Uncommon Sense called her one of Cuba's “greatest heroes”:
For eight years, Pollan was kept apart from her husband Hector Maseda, one of the Group of 75 dissidents arrested and imprisoned during the “black spring” of 2003.
Pollan and other Damas De Blanco — made up of the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and other family members of the Group of 75 — marched peacefully through the streets of Havana, bearing witness on behalf of their loved ones and against their captors. They braved the worse the dictatorship could throw against, up to and including outright assaults and arrests, but they persisted, motivated by their love for their imprisoned men and as time passed, by the support of many of their fellow Cubans and of admirers overseas inspired by their example.
The Damas, with Pollan at the forefront, were among the brave Cubans who after the murder of prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo eventually convinced the regime last year that the continued imprisonment of the Group of 75 was no longer tenable. The Spanish government and the Catholic Church claimed the credit for the eventual release of those prisoners still in jail, but it was the Damas and other Cubans — like Zapata and Guillermo Farinas — with the courage to take on the Castros, who made it happen.
Even after Maseda and others were released, Pollan remained a leader, expanding the Damas’ efforts to demand the release of other political prisoners and to other parts of Cuba.
Laura Pollan…never gave up and neither should Cubans on the front lines of the continuing struggle for freedom, and those of us who support them.
It is up to them and to us to ensure that Laura Pollan's death was not in vain, and that the inspiration she provided in life will continue until her struggle is complete.
Along the Malecon added:
Cuban authorities vilified Pollán in the state-run media, calling her a “mercenary” who received money from U.S. government-financed organizations. Others praised Pollán as a hero, a woman of great courage. Whatever your view, Pollán was one of the most important players in Cuba's transition to the post-Castro era.
Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter honoured Pollan's “heroic life” in this post, but the theme of remembrance gave way to news that the Cuban government was reportedly clamping down on activities related to the death of the famous dissident:
Tonight the dictatorship has mobilized its state security forces around the country and they are visibly nervous. Women attempting to travel to Havana from the provinces to pay their respects to the former high school literature teacher now turned human rights icon have been arrested reports Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia and Yoani Sanchez.
The post also detailed plans for Pollan's wake and funeral:
Laura's wake will take place over the next 2 hours at La Nacional funeral parlor at Infanta and Benjumeda in Central Havana on the 2nd floor in Chapel E. Ladies in White from around the country are trying to reach the capitol to pay their respects. The family has announced they will have a small private funeral and that Laura will be cremated afterwards.
Starting Saturday at 9:00am and over the next three days a book of condolences for Laura Pollan will be available for signing at Neptuno 963 between Hospital & Aramburu in Central Havana in Cuba.
Havana Times was of the view that:
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.
Angel Santiesteban, blogging at Translating Cuba, asked, “And now, what do we do?”:
May we be able to earn that life in which you now live, having justified staying on this Island you defended until death – it will be the only way in which you will live for the Motherland. And then may it not be the dead who raising their arms will still know how to defend her** [**words from a Cuban poem]. It will be us, possessed by your spirit, who will conquer the yearned-for freedom.
Indeed, many bloggers reported that the Ladies in White have vowed to continue Pollan's fight, noting that a mere two days after her death, the group marched in her memory – as well as to make the statement that her dreams for a free Cuba will not die with her. Members of the Cuban diaspora also marched in solidarity and had church services said in her honour. Condolences from official sources in the United States did not go unnoticed by diaspora bloggers.
Still, her absence seems unreal to many. Yoani Sanchez wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of Pollan accompanied by text reading: “Laura Pollan you are still with us”. Sanchez also wrote a post about Pollan's death and the “lack of compassion” shown to her by the Cuban government:
In the same days when Laura Pollán lay dying in intensive care, Cuban television rebroadcast a dogmatic serial where they insulted the leader of the Ladies in White. Among the most notable signs of the Cuban government’s pettiness is its failure to respect a political adversary, even when she is dying. This lack of compassion compelled them to deploy a crude police operation outside Calixto Garcia Hospital last night, shuffling her body from ambulance to ambulance so that we wouldn’t know to which morgue they were taking her. And, finally, they did not release even a short death notice in the national press. They have lost a final chance to appear, at least, to have pity.
Laura has gone — has left us — and they lost the opportunity to repair so many atrocities. They believed that by hanging degrading epithets on her, preventing her from leaving her house, accusing her of being a traitor, ‘stateless,’ they would prevent people from approaching her, from liking her. But in the dark hours of the morning, a funeral filled with friends and acquaintances rejected the effect of their demonization.
Laura is gone and now all the acts of hatred against her resonate even more grotesquely. Laura is gone and we are left with a country slowly waking up from a very old totalitarianism that doesn’t even know how to say ‘I’m sorry.’