Monday, December 26, 2005


Sakharov Prize-winning wives and mothers of jailed Cuban dissidents demanded the release of their loved ones after a Christmas Mass, and lashed out at Fidel Castro’s communist government.

The Ladies in White group — which says the government refused to allow the members to travel to Strasbourg, France, to collect the European Parliament’s prestigious human rights prize this month — attended Christmas Mass in Havana dressed in white to draw attention to their cause.

“We ask on this Christmas Day for freedom for our political prisoners and for the Cuban people to have a better future,” said Laura Pollan on behalf of the group.

“It’s an extremely sad day for us, because Christmas is a family holiday,” said Mrs. Pollan, wife of dissident Hector Maseda, who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. “Since our husbands are not with us, our families cannot be complete.”

The speaker of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, “deplored the attitude of the Cuban authorities” in not authorizing the five wives and close relatives of political prisoners to leave Cuba.

The women called on the European Parliament to send a delegation to Cuba to deliver the prize in person and to see “the cruel and arbitrary conditions endured by our prisoners and families,” said Blanca Reyes, the exiled wife of poet and journalist Raul Rivero.

Last week, state-run Cuban media accused the women of being “pawns of the empire,” its term for the United States, and promoting activities aimed at supporting a U.S. campaign to destabilize the Americas’ only one-party communist regime.

A government television news “round table,” during which official views are expressed, took aim last week at the Ladies in White, saying they really were “Ladies in Green” eager to obtain U.S. greenbacks in exchange for opposing the Cuban regime.

“Well, their performance was really brilliant,” Mrs. Pollan said of the widely seen broadcast. “They should get an Oscar for best performance in a comedy.” She said state media might have done them a favor.

“They identified us publicly, and so a lot of people who may not have known about the Ladies in White now do,” she said.

“This Christmas, we are asking for peace, and love in our hearts, so that we are able not to be bitter or hate the people who are making us suffer.”

Mrs. Pollan, Miriam Leiva, Julia Nunez, Loida Valdes and Berta Soler were awarded the Sakharov Prize for highlighting the plight of jailed opponents of Mr. Castro’s 45-year-old rule.

The Cuban leader criticized the European Union as hypocritical for speaking of human rights and reputedly bowing to U.S. interests.

The United States has had an economic embargo on Havana since 1961, but has become Cuba’s No. 1 food supplier because of exceptions in the provisions.

The countries do not maintain full diplomatic relations, but each has an “interests section” in the other’s capital. Relations are typically tense.

Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1989, was a Russian nuclear physicist and civil rights campaigner who helped develop the Soviet hydrogen bomb before campaigning against nuclear proliferation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for championing human rights in the Soviet Union.

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