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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Damas de Blanco: With Pink Swords

The families of jailed dissidents in Cuba raise high the gladiolus.


Ladies in White, 3/18/07, Havana, Cuba

in their 4th year of Sunday demonstrations

Photo: Carlos Serpa Maciera, via Free Thoughts

We are all prisoners on this island,” said Katia Martin.

Martin is one of Havana’s Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), the mothers, sisters, and wives of Cuban dissidents who were jailed four years ago in a notorious crackdown by Castro’s government.

Last Sunday marked four years since the arrests of the 27 journalists, librarians, and democracy advocates, some of whom were sentenced to 28 years in prison following peaceful protests.

It also marked the fourth year that the Damas de Blanco have gathered at the Santa Rita de Casia Church for mass, prayed the rosary, and then marched ten blocks to a nearby park. As is their tradition, the women all wore white and each carried a pink gladiolus bloom. This weekly floral act of defiance is “one of the few regular anti-government demonstrations on the island.”

Journalist Carlos Serpa Maciera took these photographs of the Ladies on March 18, 2007, passing out their flowers en route.

imageDamas de Blanco

Photo: Voz Catolica

Why gladiolus? We aren’t sure. This site chronicling many activities of pro-democracy groups across Cuba, notes that March 21, 2004, one year after the arrests, The Ladies in White “attended a special mass held for Cuban political prisoners at 5:00 p.m. at the Santa Rita church. Following the mass, they held a roll call in the churchyard and then made an offering of 75 gladioluses to Santa Rita. Upon mentioning the name of each political prisoner, a gladiolus was planted in moistened earth.”

We’ve found many photographs of Damas de Blanco marching with this striking flower, usually pinks blooms. Here are the Ladies in late March 2005,  also the year pro-Castro forces tried to disrupt the floral vigil.

Laura Pollan described the confrontation and asserted, “We remained firm and did not back down in the face of an enraged mob which shouted slogans and obscenities at us. We remained there, and the only weapons in our hands were flowers and palms, because it was Palm Sunday.”

The gladiolus – gladiolo, in Spanish – comes from the Latin word for “sword” (think gladiator). Thus, it adds to the Ladies’ peaceful demonstrations an edge of symbolic ferocity. By carrying pink gladiolus, like exclamation points, they alert us not to miss the message.

In contemporary Cuba, standing up and speaking out require courage. Organizing and demonstrating every week for four years under these conditions is true power. Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote of Damas de Blanco, “Their show of resistance impressed a people who were conditioned to cower.”

By choosing the pink gladiolus, the Ladies in White further feminize their appeal. Miriam Leiva, a founding member of the group, explains, “This movement of the Cuban civil society does not have a political nature, ideological preferences or confessional exclusions. We do not challenge and we’re not a party. We have neither a spokeswoman nor a hierarchy. We are the voices of the 75 innocent prisoners of conscience, imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003, and our families. We have suffered much, but we harbor neither hatred nor resentment.” What but a flower can convey all that?

imageCheering with their signature flower

Photo: La Nueva Cuba

Here’s an account of the March 19 protest in 2006. And here’s a short video about the group.

In October 2005 the Ladies in White were awarded The Sakharov Price for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.

After hearing of the award, group member Gisela Delgado, whose husband was among the 75 dissidents arrested in 2003, said,  ‘“This afternoon we will attend mass in the Santa Rita church to give thanks to the Virgin Mary, who has been a support for us in these difficult years.” Another activist pointed to a vase nearby, “This bouquet of white gladiolus is for her (the Virgin Mary).”

The Ladies in White shared the $60,000 EU award with Nigerian lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim and Reporters Without Borders, based in France.

Castro barred the women from leaving Cuba to accept their prize.



Posted by Julie on 03/25 at 03:41 PM
PoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink