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Laura Pollan; Cuban dissident who founded Ladies in White

Laura Pollan participated in a weekly protest in Havana in November 2010. Laura Pollan participated in a weekly protest in Havana in November 2010. (Desmond Boylan/Reuters/File)
By Andrea Rodriguez
Associated Press / October 16, 2011

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HAVANA - Cuban dissident Laura Pollan, who founded the opposition group Ladies in White and who for nearly a decade staged weekly protest marches with other wives of political prisoners to press for their release, died Friday, her husband said. She was 63 and had suffered from acute respiratory problems.

Mrs. Pollan was one of the best-known and most vocal opposition figures in a country where those who dissent publicly risk reprisals or imprisonment. Even after the Ladies accomplished the goal for which they were founded - their husbands’ freedom - the group continued to protest against the government, which excoriated the women as traitors doing the bidding of the United States.

“She was a teacher and a housewife, but she became a leader for civil rights,’’ said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a prominent human rights activist on the island.

Before 2003 she was a nearly anonymous high school literature teacher. She steered clear of politics and was reluctant about her husband’s dissident activities. Then the government struck with one of the biggest crackdowns on dissent in decades, arresting her husband, Hector Maseda, and 74 other activists, social commentators, and opposition leaders.

The arrests sparked the creation of the Ladies in White and began Mrs. Pollan’s transformation from activist’s spouse to agitator in her own right.