17_Damas_de_Blanco_demonstration_in_Havana,_Cuba

Ladies in White is an opposition movement in Cuba consisting of wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents. The women protest the imprisonments by attending Mass each Sunday wearing white dresses and then silently walking through the streets dressed in white clothing. The color white is chosen to symbolize peace.

The movement received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 2005.

During the Black Spring in 2003, the Cuban government arrested and summarily tried and sentenced 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists, and independent librarians to terms of up to 28 years in prison.

For its part, the Cuban government accused the 75 individuals of “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state”, including belonging to “illegal organizations”, accepting money from the United States Interests Section in Havana and of “hijacking”, “terrorist activities”, and collaborating with foreign media. In the view of the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Black Spring violated the most basic norms of international law, including Article 19 of the International Covernant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees everyone the right to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Under the leadership of Laura Pollan, the Ladies in White group was formed two weeks after the arrests. Relatives of the prisoners began gathering on Sundays to pray for their relatives. After each Mass, they began a ritual procession from the church to a nearby park. The white clothing they wear is reminiscent of the Argentine Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who used a similar strategy to demand information about their missing children from the 1970s military junta. Each marcher wears a button with a photo of her jailed relative and the number of years to which he has been sentenced.

The Cuban government has criticized the Ladies in White for being a subversive association of American-backed terrorists. On Palm Sunday in 2005, the pro-government Federation of Cuban Women sent 150 women to counter-protest the group.

At times, sizable mobs have attacked the Ladies in White, yelling insults at them, and assisting the police to throw them into police buses. However, since Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino intervened on their behalf in 2010, they have generally been allowed to protest outside of his church.