Cuba detains 70 Ladies in White ahead of pope visit

dissident group LadiesHAVANA: Cuban authorities detained about 70 members of the dissident group Ladies in White over the weekend, including 18 who staged its weekly Sunday march in the Cuban capital.

The 18 women, dressed in their customary white clothing, were rounded up and taken away in buses after they left their permitted route through Havana’s Miramar neighborhood, a Reuters cameraman on the scene said.

Ladies in White member Magaly Norvis Otero Suarez told Reuters that 16 of the women were arrested Saturday evening when they attempted to stage a march in central Havana and another 36 were detained Sunday morning as they prepared to go to Mass at Santa Rita Catholic Church, then stage their silent march along 5th Avenue, Miramar’s main boulevard.

They had gathered at the home of their deceased leader, Laura Pollan, over the weekend to commemorate the anniversary of the 2003 arrest of 75 government opponents that gave rise to the organization, Otero said.Human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez told Reuters that along with the estimated 70 women detained in Havana, another 12 dissidents were arrested in other provinces.

“The Ladies in White, or “Damas de Blanco” in Spanish, were the wives and mothers of the 75, who received lengthy sentences but have all been freed, most as part of a 2010 agreement brokered by the Roman Catholic Church that resulted in the release of 130 political prisoners.The group has continued its weekly marches, which are the only public protests allowed in Cuba, saying there are still more political prisoners to be freed.

They are allowed to walk along a 12-block stretch of 5th Avenue, but are quickly detained when they vary from the prescribed route. On Sunday, they continued toward the Malecon, Havana’s famed seaside boulevard, before police swooped in. – Arabnews