Skip to comments.Wives of Jailed Cuban Dissidents March Through Havana Demanding Husbands' Release
Posted on 03/19/2004 5:33:35 PM PST by nuconvert
Wives of Jailed Cuban Dissidents March Through Havana Demanding Husbands' Release
By Andrea Rodriguez/ Associated Press Writer
HAVANA (AP) - The wives of 15 Cuban political prisoners jailed in last year's crackdown on dissent held a rare public march in Havana's streets Friday demanding amnesty for their husbands. The women - dressed all in white, with many pinning their husbands' photographs to their chests - started their march early Friday at the well-known Coppelia ice cream restaurant in the city center.
"Freedom for the 75 political prisoners!" the women shouted as they marched up to Department of Prisons headquarters seven blocks away.
There, they submitted a letter to the department's director, Gen. Rafael Calderin Tamayo, demanding freedom for their husbands and improved prison conditions.
Authorities did not interfere with the march, which lasted about 2 1/2 hours.
Several men who appeared to be plainclothes police officers were seen along the way, watching the protest from a distance. A green Peugeot sedan slowly followed the group while someone inside videotaped the procession.
Havana has justified the crackdown, saying it has the right to defend the nation from foreign attempts to change its socialist system.
"Cuba claims the right to apply the law to defend itself from aggression," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva on Wednesday.
"Cuba claims its right to put on trial those mercenaries who collaborate with the (U.S. economic) blockade and aggressive policies by the superpower, which wishes to re-conquer and subjugate our people."
Seventy-four men and one woman were arrested March 18, 2003, and accused of being mercenaries working with American officials to undermine Fidel Castro's government. The prisoners - including independent reporters, democracy activists and opposition party members - and the U.S. government deny the charges.
After one-day closed trials, they were sentenced to between six and 28 years in prison.
"They are unjustly jailed," said Dolia Leal, wife of Nestor Aguilar, sentenced to 13 years.
"We have the sacred right to fight for our families," said Loyda Valdes, whose husband, Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, is serving 26 years.
The wives also took a bus to the Miramar neighborhood, where they marched more than 30 blocks down the main Quinta Avenida thoroughfare to National Assembly headquarters.
The women delivered a letter addressed to parliament President Ricardo Alarcon seeking amnesty for the prisoners.
That gesture "would be very well received by the Cuban people and by the international community," the letter said.
Governments and rights groups around the world roundly condemned last year's crackdown and the unrelated executions of three men who tried to hijack a passenger ferry to the United States.
Washington responded by further tightening restrictions on travel to Cuba.