Cuba government supporters block march by dissident women

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 09, 2011 9:38 PM
Cuba government supporters block march by dissident women

By Jack Kimball

HAVANA (Reuters) - Dozens of slogan-chanting Cuban government supporters faced off with dissident women on Friday and prevented them from marching in the street on the eve of international Human Rights Day.

About 200 backers of Cuba's communist government crowded a street in central Havana where 20 women of the Ladies in White dissident group had assembled in a house .

They carried signs of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and yelled pro-government and anti-U.S. slogans.

"They're mercenaries," government supporter Elvira Gonzalez said of the dissident women, who had planned a march to demand the release of political prisoners.

Cuba's government routinely calls the island's dissidents "mercenaries" and claims they are on the payroll of its long-time ideological foe, the United States.

The Ladies in White group was formed by the wives and mothers of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown on Castro's opponents. The women dressed in white to march silently along Havana streets seeking the release of the prisoners.

The women were expected to try to march again on Saturday, the anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

All 75 Cubans jailed in Havana's so-called Black Spring of 2003 have been freed, most of them following a deal between the Catholic Church and President Raul Castro in 2010.

Dissident protests are regularly confronted by hostile mobs backing the government, which says the free education and health services it provides show its respect for human rights.

"There are no human rights here. They don't respect them," said Ladies in White leader Berta Soler. "We can't go out to walk on the streets of Havana because the government has these mobs and they won't let us pass," she said.

(Reporting by Jack Kimball; editing by Anthony Boadle)