New bond for 'widows' of Cuba crackdown
Some wives of recently jailed dissidents rally for their husbands' release - despite fear of arrest
In the airy vestibule of Santa Rita Church in the seaside suburb of Mirimar last Sunday, among the pews full of couples and families young and old, a group of 20 unaccompanied women in white blouses and black scarves stood out.Skip to next paragraph
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They are the "widows" of Cuba's recent political crackdown - the wives of the human rights activists, political-reform campaigners, and independent journalists sentenced to prison terms of up to 28 years. Of the 75 dissidents convicted in hasty trials in April, only independent economist Marta Beatriz Roque is a woman.
Every week the wives gather at the church of the patron saint of desperate causes.
"We have come to remember our husbands," said Miriam Leiva, wearing a T-shirt imprinted with a photo of her jailed spouse, independent economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe. "This is an act of solidarity and support for their cause."
Cuban officials insist that the sweep was necessary to thwart a US-hatched plot to foment a fifth column to topple President Fidel Castro. The jailed dissidents and their supporters insist that their only crime was to dare to challenge the authority of Mr. Castro's one-party state.
While the convictions have shattered Cuba's budding dissident movement, it has also created a new union among the men's wives. They are not a movement, the women insist, but a circle of friendship and support in a time of shared hardship.
For some, this challenge is just a further step in the work they shared with their husbands. For others, who took little interest in the dissident movement, circumstances have compelled them to become more active. For all the women, life with their men behind bars is a struggle to hold the family together while doing what they can to win their husbands' release.
Many of the wives, now friends, were strangers before their husbands' convictions. Many met for the first time in the weeks between trials when many Havana dissidents were held at the Cuban state security headquarters of Villa Marista.
"We would see each other bringing clothes and food to our husbands," says Blanca Reyes, wife of independent journalist and poet Raúl Reyes, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison. "We would talk about our families and how we were doing. I did not know all the names of the other wives, but we knew what we were doing there. We stay in contact and now we have this union together. We support each other; it reminds us that we are not isolated."
Ms. Reyes jokes at the irony that some now call her a cabezita, or little head among the women, when she took almost no interest in her husband's work before his arrest.
"I knew about his work, and I supported it, but I never participated in any activities," she says. "I never went with him to the embassies or his meetings."
Within weeks of her husband's arrest, Reyes had circulated a letter among the other wives appealing for support from the pope, the Spanish royal family, and the first ladies of European Union presidents.
"[Our husbands] are in prison and we are free. What else can we do?" she asks. "I'm not asking that they reduce the sentences. We want them to eliminate the sentences. In my husband's case, all he did was write. The only things that they confiscated from our house as evidence were press articles. I won't stop speaking until they let him free, or they put me in prison."