Photograph taken on 24 September 2011. Laura Pollán is on the left.

Like every September 24, this Monday Catholics are celebrating the Day of Mercies, one of the invocations of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin of Mercies, or of Mercy, as she is also known, is the patron of the city of Barcelona and is identified with the virtues of forgiveness and benevolence. In the Yoruba pantheon she is syncretized with Obatalá, recognized as the purest of all the deities, owner of everything white, of the head, and of thoughts and dreams.

The Ladies in White, who have taken to the streets to demand the release of their family members incarcerated for political reasons, have taken this date as a very special day. Last year, near the temple dedicated to this virgin in the city of Havana, dozens of Ladies in White were attacked by a mob. The leader of the group, Laura Pollán, was brutally beaten and bitten on her hand. Weeks later she died in a hospital, victim of a sudden illness still not clarified.

Since last Thursday the headquarters of the Ladies in White has been under assault by the police. Neptune Street is blocked off in the block between Hospital and Aramburu streets. There were more than 50 arrests throughout the country, and of these, as of this Monday morning thirty remain unaccounted for, their whereabouts unknown.

These courageous women face not only persecution and violence, but are also victims of a systematic smear campaign of denigration and defamation. Some of them have already seen their family members released, and yet they still accompany those who haven’t yet achieved this objective. They are among the very few Cubans who have found an answer to the question so many of us ask: “What can I do?”

24 September 2012

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