Cuba's Ladies in White mourn leader 1 year later

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Associated Press

Posted on October 14, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 15 at 12:03 AM

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba's Ladies in White dissident group on Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of their co-founder's death with cries of "Laura Pollan lives!" outside a Havana church.

Several dozen women dressed in white and carrying gladiolas also yelled "freedom!" at their weekly protest march in a western neighborhood of the Cuban capital.

Many wore T-shirts bearing the image of Pollan, who died Oct. 14, 2011 after a week in intensive care for a respiratory virus.

"We are in mourning today. We have a lot of pain," said Berta Soler, who has become the group's most public face since Pollan died. "But we also have great strength, because Laura is giving us great strength."

Cuban authorities call the dissidents "counterrevolutionaries" who take money from Washington and anti-Castro interest groups to undermine the island nation's Communist system.

The Ladies in White were formed in 2003 by wives and relatives seeking the release of 75 dissidents rounded up that year and given long prison sentences, including Hector Maseda, Pollan's widower.

The last 52 people in the group still behind bars seven years later were freed under a 2010 deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church. Most went into exile in Spain along with their families.

But under Pollan's and Soler's leadership, the Ladies in White adopted a more general political agenda and continued protesting with a mostly new membership.

In 2005, the European Union awarded the Ladies in White its annual Sakharov human rights prize.

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