Leader of Cuban dissident group in intensive care

AP News
Posted: Oct 08, 2011 3:02 PM
Leader of Cuban dissident group in intensive care

The founder of a prominent Cuban dissident group, the Ladies in White, was hospitalized for acute respiratory problems and was in intensive care Saturday, family members and associates said.

Laura Pollan went to a hospital Friday and was in serious condition the following day, though stable and showing signs of improvement.

"She is very, very grave," said Bertha Soler, another member of the group. "They told us she has an acute respiratory deficiency," and the doctors "think the cause is viral."

Pollan fell ill and was vomiting last weekend, and was seen by doctors twice this week before going Friday to the hospital, where she was intubated to help her breathe, Soler said by phone from the medical center.

Pollan's daughter, also named Laura, said her condition was still being studied but she has begun a treatment with antibiotics.

Doctors told the family to expect that she will remain in intensive care for at least a week, said dissident Elizardo Sanchez, who was with them at the hospital.

Pollan also has diabetes.

The 63-year-old formed the Ladies in White in 2003 along with other wives of 75 activists, social commentators and opposition leaders who were arrested that year. Pollan's husband, Hector Maseda, was among those sentenced to 25 years in prison.

For years the Ladies pressed for their release by staging weekly marches through the streets of the capital, wearing white and holding gladiolas.

On occasion, they have been met by rowdy pro-government crowds who surround the women, shouting insults and revolutionary slogans. The government accuses the Ladies in White and other dissidents of being mercenaries in the service of Washington.

The last of those jailed in the 2003 crackdown have been released over the past year under a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church, and many went into exile with their families.

However the Ladies have continued to march and even expanded their activities outside the capital. They said they were refocusing their demands on the release of about 50 other, lesser-known prisoners. Most of those were arrested for politically motivated but violent crimes such as sabotage and hijacking, which disqualifies them from consideration by Amnesty International as "prisoners of conscience."

"We are going to continue," Pollan told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "We are fighting for freedom and human rights."

In 2005 the European Union recognized the Ladies in White with its top human rights distinction, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, angering the Cuban government.