HAVANA – Cuban government supporters harassed a group of dissidents who met at a home in this capital to commemorate the eighth anniversary of a sweeping crackdown on dissent.
Hundreds of mostly young counter-demonstrators gathered Friday outside the home of Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White organization that comprises relatives of dozens of government opponents arrested and given long prison terms in 2003, the vast majority of whom have since been released.
Twenty-seven dissidents met at the residence, including members of the Ladies in White and dissident Guillermo Fariñas – both winners of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought – as well as recently released Amnesty International-adopted prisoners of conscience Hector Maseda and Angel Moya.
The dissidents were marking the eighth anniversary of the Black Spring crackdown of 2003, when 75 independent journalists and democracy activists were rounded up and sentenced to prison terms of between six and 28 years.
They were accused of conspiring with the United States to undermine the independence of the state and “the principles of the revolution.”
On Friday, the large pro-Castro crowd forced the Ladies in White and the other dissidents to remain inside the home and shouted slogans in support of the government and against the dissidents, whom they denounced as “traitors.”
They also hung a large Cuban flag from a rooftop and blared the national anthem and music by Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez.
A contingent of police and state security agents also had been deployed to the area surrounding the home and several streets were blocked off to traffic.
Tensions flared at one point during the hours-long “act of repudiation” against the dissidents, when one member of the Ladies in White tried to leave Pollan’s home to hold a peaceful march on the street.
The government supporters prevented her from doing so and pushing and shoving erupted between the two sides.
Shortly afterward, plainclothes security agents arrived and helped one of the Ladies in White who felt ill, escorting her away from the crowd in a vehicle.
In statements by phone early in the day, Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler had vowed that the harassment would not prevent her group from commemorating the anniversary of the Black Spring.
For his part, Fariñas, a psychologist, independent journalist and frequent hunger striker said the years since the 2003 crackdown have been ones of “resistance, civic struggle and perseverance.”
This year’s anniversary comes at a time when most of the Group of 75 prisoners have been released following Spanish-supported talks last year between President Raul Castro’s government and Cuba’s Catholic hierarchy.
Havana was under international pressure to release them after one Group of 75 member, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died in February 2010 after a lengthy hunger strike.
Of the 52 members of the Group of 75 who were still in prison last July, 40 have since been released into exile in Spain, 10 have been released and have stayed in Cuba and two – Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer – remain behind bars.
Fariñas said that the final two members of the Group of 75 – all of whom were adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International – will be released soon.
But he stressed the importance of continuing to fight for human rights in Cuba and hailed the “pride and conviction” of the liberated Group of 75 members, noting that all pledged upon their release to persist in the struggle for political change on the Communist-ruled island.