Why women now lead the dissident fight in Cuba
Only a handful of political activists are willing to risk fighting for basic freedoms. But more ordinary Cubans, they say, are asking how to get involved.
(Page 3 of 3)
"I was always a rebel. I've fought injustice since I was a child," she says. "What we learn in school is completely different from the reality. Life is very repressive. Police can ask for paperwork at anytime, for no reason."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Seven years ago, I exploded and decided to fight the system." It was during the "special period" of dire economic hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were food, water, and gas shortages. "It was like 10 years of being at war."
"I'm very worried about getting locked up," she says. "But I try not to think about it, otherwise nothing will change."
'Ladies in White'
On the other side of Havana, Laura Pollán's phone never stops ringing. In hushed tones, she talks with colleagues about recent arrests of other dissidents or events planned for that week. She never knows who is listening. Every conversation ends with the admonition, "Be careful."
She is a leader of the "Damas de Blanco" or "Ladies in White," a group of relatives – mostly wives, mothers, and sisters – of dissidents who were jailed in a sweep of arrests five years ago in what has since been dubbed "Black Spring."
Pollán's husband, Héctor Maseda, a journalist, was arrested with 74 others in March 2003 for "acting against the integrity and sovereignty of the state." Among other things, he had spent the previous decades organizing newspaper clippings by subject: environment, economics, politics, social issues, and circled the contradictions in public discourse.
"In the 50s, they [Cuba's current top officials] were revolutionaries; now they are counterrevolutionaries," says Pollán. Her husband, and other dissidents – who are so often dubbed the right-wing puppets of the US – are the real revolutionaries today, she says. "They are the ones who want to change the system."
It is hard. She works alone in her house, on a tiny computer, her dog at her side. She is 60, her husband is 65. "We are senior citizens. We need each other's compassion and understanding," she says.
Police briefly arrested her in April after they broke up a peaceful protest in Havana, and since then state security agents have installed a security camera and floodlights in front of her home, which is also the main office for the Ladies in White.
Digging deep for faith in change
Back at Rivero's rural home, she's slowly restocking her library after the government took away all her books. Her daughter, Yuricel, who was inspired by US first lady Laura Bush (a former school teacher and librarian) to become a librarian, is out of work and blacklisted. She says she was fired for handing out books provided by the US government.
Rivero's still so angry with the government that she rejects the food vouchers that all Cubans get. Instead, she's made it a point to be self-sufficient by growing enough food to feed herself – and to donate to others.
With a sudden move, she grabs one of the turkeys that strut around her backyard among the plantain, mango, and avocado trees. She raises and cooks the birds to help feed expectant mothers when they go to the hospital to deliver. "Hospital food is horrible," she explains.
Rivero and other dissidents say it's hard to envision a Castro-led regime rolling back political restrictions, given the repression they've experienced. But they say that they wouldn't be battling the system if change wasn't possible.
"Raúl's Cuba is already very different than Fidel's," says Tapanes. "I think change is already happening and Raúl is implementing China-style reforms. But I'm not happy with that. The change has to be radical."
Raúl's recent economic reforms are "not change," insists Suarez. "But I have faith that there will be change. That's why I'm fighting."