Raul Castro became Cuba’s first new president in fifty years when he took over the reigns of power from his ailing brother, Fidel Castro, in February. But it is clear that the slightly younger Castro is as intent upon repressing the Cuban citizen’s political rights as was his older brother. Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of belief and the freedom to challenge one’s government peaceably remain beyond the reach of everyday Cubans, as was so brutally demonstrated in the recent suppression of ten women demonstrators in the country’s capital.
The government of Raul Castro cracked down on a group of peaceful women protesters known as the “Ladies in White.” These women are the wives of men arrested in a political crackdown in 2003 that landed 75 Cuban dissidents in prison on charges of working for the U.S. government. Fifty-five remain in jail.
The women had staged a sit-in next to Havana’s Revolution Square to demand that Raul Castro release their relatives. The women, some of whom sustained bruises and scratches, were forcibly loaded onto buses, driven home by police, and warned against participating in further protests.
The “Ladies in White” earned their name by marching silently every Sunday along Havana boulevard dressed in white. One of the founders, Miriam Leiva, told the press, “We were born out of government repression and we have no particular political agenda. Our objective is purely humanitarian, to free the prisoners of March 2003.”
The U.S. Interests Section in Havana, in a written statement, deplored the forceful removal of the women and the denial of their right to free assembly. The U.S. urges Cuba to release all those jailed for peacefully exercising their universally recognized human rights.
The United States has repeatedly called for the Cuban government to release political prisoners and engage in a national dialogue with civil society leading to a process of democratic change. “A new day for Cuba will come,” said President Bush. “And we will know when it’s here. We will know it’s here when jailers go to the cells where Cuban prisoners of conscience are held and set them free. . . .And we will know it is here when the ‘Ladies in White’ no longer make their silent vigils, or live in constant fear of assault or arrest.”