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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Laura Pollán’s Gladiolas of Freedom

The leader of Cuba’s Damas de Blanco has died after winning the freedom of their family members. But the cause goes on, fortified by her defiant flower.


Laura Pollán Toledo marches in Havana in a demonstration for political freedom by the Ladies in White.

Photo: Javier Galeano, for AP

Why symbolism? And, at the root, why flower symbolism?

The direct floral action of Laura Pollán Toledo can answer. Pollan, a former schoolteacher, died October 14 in a Havana hospital. For eight years, holding a pink gladiolus high, she led Las Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White), a brave and influential freedom movement in her native Cuba.

Pollán’s husband was among 75 journalists and other pro-democracy activists who were rounded up in March 2003, swiftly tried, and jailed for speaking out against Castro’s regime. Some, like Pollán’s husband, Héctor Maseda, were sentenced to more than 20 years for allegedly undermining “the territorial integrity of the state” (which means challenging the status quo, not pressing for annexation to Haiti.)

Working to free her husband, Pollán came to meet—then to organize—the families of others who had been imprisoned during the infamous Primavera Negra (Black Spring). They began a weekly protest vigil through Havana. Dressed in white, the prisoners’ family members would attend Mass together at the Santa Rita church and then march ten blocks to a nearby park, carrying pink gladioli overhead.


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Posted by Julie on 10/29 at 02:05 PM
Culture & SocietyPoliticsPermalink