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The Legacy Of A Lady

Members of dissident group "Ladies in White" pray after a Mass and before the group's weekly march at Santa Rita church in Havana, Cuba, Sunday Oct. 16, 2011. The photograph at center is of Laura Pollan. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

Laura Pollán formed the Damas de Blanco, Ladies in White.

Laura Pollán Toledo was, as she described herself, "a simple wife" living in the Cuban capital of Havana, when in late March 2003 her husband, independent journalist Hector Maseda, was swept up in the "Black Spring" crackdown on Cuban dissidents. Journalists, libertarians, human rights and democracy activists, 75 in all, were arrested on charges that they were acting as agents of the United States by accepting aid from the U.S. government.

That day, Laura Pollán chose to fight back, and within two weeks after the crackdown, she formed the Damas de Blanco, Ladies in White. Every Sunday, dressed all in white, female relatives of the prisoners gathered at the church of Saint Rita, the patron of lost causes. Then they would silently walk through the city streets. Year after year, through good weather and bad, despite harassment by police and mobs, the Damas de Blanco continued their silent Sunday walk to protest the incarceration of all prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

In 2005, the European Parliament awarded the Damas de Blanco the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, and they received the U.S. Department of State Human Rights Defenders Award in April 2011.

Despite long prison sentences of up to 28 years, most of the 75 Black Spring victims have been released, including Hector Maseda. But still the Damas de Blanco marched.

"I started fighting for my husband, then for the group, and now it’s for changes for the better of the country," said Laura Pollán during an interview she gave to the Christian Science Monitor three years ago.

Laura Pollán died on October 14th, but her fight goes on. The Damas de Blanco marched again two days after her death, under a new leader but with the same unrelenting determination.

"We are deeply saddened by the death of the founder of the Damas de Blanco, Laura Pollán," said State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland. "Cuba has lost one of its most important voices of conscience. Mrs. Pollán will be remembered with gratitude by scores of former political prisoners who are now free thanks to her and the Damas. Through them, and all who work for a democratic future in Cuba, her legacy will endure."