HAVANA – About 50 members of the Ladies in White dissident group, along with other opposition figures including graffiti artist Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, known as El Sexto, were arrested on Sunday in Havana during the ladies’ traditional Sunday march, which drew a counterdemonstration by Cuban government supporters.
As the peaceful weekly march after attending Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church approached its end, the Ladies in White attempted to walk along other streets off their regular route, where groups of regime supporters had gathered and began to berate them.
The incident, with some kind of similar harassment of the group generally being repeated every Sunday for the past 46 weeks, came a few hours before the arrival on the communist island of U.S. President Barack Obama, who as part of his historic visit to Cuba is scheduled to meet with dissidents.
The Ladies in White, along with other dissidents and activists from other opposition groups united under the designation #TodosMarchamos walked for about 100 meters (yards) carrying a banner reading “Obama, traveling to Cuba isn’t fun. No to human rights violations” and distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The counterdemonstrators they came up against carried pro-government signs and shouted “Fidel, Fidel!” and “This street belongs to Fidel” – an allusion to former Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Several male activists accompanying the dissident ladies were also handcuffed and taken away in police cars.
The head of Ladies in White, Berta Soler, told EFE that her group is asking Obama during his visit to “give a very clear message of support to the Cuban people, since the U.S. has always wanted the best, and democracy, for the island.”
She also said that her group wants the Cuban government to immediately release all political prisoners, give a general amnesty and cease perpetrating political violence.