The cause of Cuban freedom today lost one its most steadfast leaders. Cuba today lost one of its greatest heroes.
And the Castro dictatorship claimed yet another victim, Laura Pollan.
She was 63.
Pollan, a leader of the Damas De Blanco, or "Ladies In White," died of heart failure a week after she was admitted to a Havana hospital suffering from a respiratory infection and complications of her diabetes. While hospitalized, she also was diagnosed as suffering from dengue fever, a too common illness on the island.
The Castro dictatorship took much from Pollan, culminating with her life.
For eight years, Pollan was kept apart from her husband Hector Maseda, one of the Group of 75 dissidents arrested and imprisoned during the "black spring" of 2003.
For eight years, Pollan and other Damas De Blanco -- made up of the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and other family members of the Group of 75 -- marched peacefully through the streets of Havana, bearing witness on behalf of their loved ones and against their captors. They braved the worse the dictatorship could throw against , up to and including outright assaults and arrests, but they persisted, motivated by their love for their imprisoned men and as time passed, by the support of many of their fellow Cubans and of admirers overseas inspired by their example.
The Damas, with Pollan at the forefront, were among the brave Cubans who after the murder of prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo eventually convinced the regime last year that the continued imprisonment of the Group of 75 was no longer tenable. The Spanish government and the Catholic Church claimed the credit for the eventual release of those prisoners still in jail, but it was the Damas and other Cubans -- like Zapata and Guillermo Farinas -- with the courage to take on the Castros, who made it happen.
Even after Maseda and others were released, Pollan remained a leader, expanding the Damas' efforts to demand the release of other political prisoners and to other parts of Cuba. The regime responded with some of its most vicious attacks, including one during which a photographer captured this image of Pollan being assaulted by one of the dictatorship's thugs:
I expect that even in death, Pollan will continue to inspire, perhaps similarly to what happened after Gloria Amaya, the mother of three Group of 75 prisoners, died in early 2010. Aside from the example she set, images taken at her wake revealed to the world for the first time the physical toll that imprisonment had taken on her son, Ariel Sigler, and crystallized what really was at stake.
Illness claimed Laura Pollan, but her true killer was the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro and their minions. Her blood is on their hands.
The thugs assaulted and beat her and dragged her through streets.
The deplorable living conditions found throught out Havana breeded the mosquitoes that eventually infected her with dengue.
The vaunted Cuban health care system gave her no hope of survival once she was admitted to one of its hospitals.
But most deplorably, the Castro dictatorship for eight years unjustly separated her from the love of her life and did whatever it could to make sure her suffering was no less than what Maseda was suffering in its dungeons.
Laura Pollan, however, never gave up and neither should Cubans on the front lines of the continuing struggle for freedom, and those of us who support them.
It is up to them and to us to ensure that Laura Pollan's death was not in vain, and that the inspiration she provided in life will continue until her struggle is complete.
Listen and read, in English, Laura Pollan's words as she describes the struggle she lead:
And here, watch a tribute I produced in March 2010 to Laura Pollan and the other Damas De Blanco.
See more images of Laura Pollan, here.