As the Cuban government prepares to welcome Pope Benedict (the second papal visit to the Communist island since the Castro brothers came to power in 1959), its security forces marked the occasion by cracking down on a group of unarmed women peacefully demonstrating for human rights.As the NYT reports, the “Ladies in White” (Damas de Blanco) organized to protest the arrest of 75 government dissenters in 2003. The Ladies
were the wives and mothers of the 75, who received lengthy sentences but have all been freed, most as part of a 2010 agreement brokered by the Roman Catholic Church that resulted in the release of 130 political prisoners.
The group has grown considerably, and continues to march weekly after Sunday Mass, dressed in white and remaining silent, seeking their loved ones’ release and an end to government repression.This is an unprecedented sustained public protest against the repressive policies of a failed regime, and the limits of government tolerance are severe. Last Sunday many of these courageous and dignified women were arrested for straying from their strictly prescribed five-block marching route. Others were arrested for attempting to stage a similar march on Saturday night without government approval.The familiar coalition of the hotheaded and immature (yes, Sean Penn and Michael Moore, among others this means you), together with hard nosed, hard headed lefties who think cracking bourgeois skulls is necessary if you want to build a proletarian utopia, still does its best to shield the Cuban government from the full consequences of its mingled brutality and ineptitude. If Castro were a fascist, the Ladies in White would be the darlings of the press and the intelligentsia. Sean Penn would make movies about them; they would have at least one Nobel Peace Prize by now, and the European left would mention them in the same breath as Palestinian victims of Israeli policies.But since they have the unhappiness to be protesting in one of the last bastions of the twentieth century’s greatest failure, they mostly march in obscurity, forgotten by a world that should honor them among the great souls of the age.Cuba remains one of those unhappy countries in which being arrested is a badge of honor; let’s hope that their long and peaceful struggle can inspire a new Cuba to rise one day from the moral and economic ruin of the old.