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Laura Pollán, a human rights activist who founded Ladies in White, a Cuba-based group of female relatives of political prisoners, is being posthumously honored by the National Endowment for Democracy on Wednesday evening.
Pollán, who died in October, had been a high school teacher with no involvement in politics until her husband, Héctor Maseda, became one of 75 anti-regime activists arrested by Cuban authorities in 2003 as part of a crackdown on dissidents.
Her initial small gatherings in her home with the wives, mothers and daughters of other political prisoners became the Ladies in White – so called because of the all-white attire of the women – and held weekly marches in Havana. In Spanish, they are called Las Damas de Blanco.
Laura Pollán and the quiet dignity of the Ladies in White have courageously voiced the core desire of the Cuban people and of people everywhere to live in liberty.
Pollán became one of the best-known and most vocal opposition figures in Cuba, risking arrest herself, and reprisals of others acting on behalf of the Communist regime.
She is being honored with the Democracy Service Medal, which was first awarded in 1999 to two people: Lech Walesa, former Polish president and founder of the Solidarity trade union movement, and Lane Kirkland, the former president of the AFL-CIO.
In a statement released Wednesday, President Obama said: “Laura Pollán and the quiet dignity of the Ladies in White have courageously voiced the core desire of the Cuban people and of people everywhere to live in liberty."
“Through Laura Pollán’s and the Damas’ brave actions, the world bore witness to the repressive actions of Cuban authorities, eventually leading to the release of political prisoners wrongly jailed in the Spring of 2003,” the president continued. “To Las Damas de Blanco who will watch or listen to today’s ceremony, you have our utmost respect for your efforts to stand up for the rights of the Cuban people.”
Pollán’s husband was released from prison in February – he was among one of the last of the Group of 75, as it came to be known, to be set free.
Pollán and the other Ladies in White continued their weekly marches, expanding the focus to the general practice of jailing dissidents, and human rights violations.
“We are going to continue,” she told the Associated Press. “We are fighting for freedom and human rights. 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.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org