HAVANA – HAVANA (AP) — The mother of a Cuban political prisoner who died following a hunger strike held a march in her son's honor without incident Sunday, as pro-government mobs that had broken up the demonstration for weeks stayed away.
Reina Luisa Tamayo led about 12 relatives from her home to a Roman Catholic Mass, then on to the cemetery where her son is buried, in her eastern hometown of Banes.
Her son Orlando, a political opposition activist who was jailed on an array of charges, including disrespecting authority, died Feb. 23 after a lengthy hunger strike behind bars.
He was the first opposition figure in nearly 40 years to die after refusing food.
Ever since, Tamayo has tried to lead Sunday marches in his memory, but has been blocked from doing so by groups of government supporters.
"This time we were able to go to the cemetery and to church," Tamayo said in a telephone interview.
The Catholic Church helped ease tensions. After last Sunday's march was broken up, the Rev. Eugenio Aranguren, the top Catholic authority in Holguin province, which includes Banes, met with Tamayo and said the Church would take humanitarian, not political steps, in the matter.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega then met Friday in Havana with members of the Damas de Blanco, or "Ladies In White," a support group for wives and mothers of political prisoners, and discussed Tamayo's march. Less than 48 hours later, it went off without a hitch.
Tamayo is not a member of the Havana-based Ladies in White, but supports the group. Her march drew international attention last week, when Amnesty International called on Cuba's government to allow it to go forward and conservative, Cuban-American U.S. representatives said breaking it up offered proof of state-sponsored repression.
Sunday's uneventful march was the latest example of the Church stepping in to end a standoff between Cuba's government and the opposition.
For weeks in April, carefully organized groups of government supporters broke up the traditional Sunday march in Havana of the Ladies In White, until Ortega met with President Raul Castro.
Authorities then agreed to allow the march to continue as long as its participants did not deviate from their traditional route down the capital's swank Fifth Avenue.
On July 7, the Church and the government announced a landmark deal whereby Cuba agreed to free 52 political prisoners rounded up during a sweeping government crackdown on dissent in 2003.
So far, 26 former prisoners have been released with their relatives into exile in Spain.
If all 52 are released, Cuba will bring to zero the number of prisoners still behind bars since March 2003, when 75 leading activists, community organizers and dissidents were captured in what the opposition calls the "Black Spring."