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Diana and Laura: A Tale of Two Women in Cuba

By: John Suarez - Sep 5, 2013, 6:43 pm

We should never, ever give up! ~ Diana Nyad (2013)

They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens. ~ Laura Pollán (2010)

Diana Nyad and Laura Pollán: Profiles in Courage and Persistance
Diana Nyad and Laura Pollán: profiles of courage and persistance.

Diana Nyad, after several attempts at age 64, swam without a shark cage from Havana to Key West breaking a world record that will not soon be duplicated. Back in 1979, she made the swim from Bimini to Florida a world record at the time.

Diana confronted domestic abuse as a child from her stepfather and later as an adolescent from her coach. A courageous woman, though, she overcame these traumas and demonstrated, throughout her swimming career and in her life as a motivational speaker, the power to overcome any obstacle.

When Laura Pollán’s journalist husband was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison for nonviolent dissent in 2003, she cofounded the woman’s movement, the Ladies in White. These women, led by Laura, began demanding their loved ones’ freedom and would regularly take to the streets in silent protest marches. They confronted state security agents and violent mobs sent to stop them.

Laura suffered libelous attacks, physical assaults, and fractured bones. Even after being injected with unknown substances, she refused to give up. She died under suspicious circumstances on October 14, 2011, while under the custody of state security at a local hospital in Cuba.

A Cuban doctor described it as a death by purposeful medical neglect, but she had accomplished the initial goal of the Ladies in White: the release of all the activists, including her husband, who had been arrested in the 2003, during the Black Cuban Spring.

This was an historic accomplishment not seen over the past half century of the Cuban dictatorship. Nevertheless, the transformation of the human rights movement that sought changes in the laws is what most likely led to the decision to eliminate this courageous woman who passed away at the age of 65.

Diana Nyad, in addition to her athletic accomplishments, has spoken out about the abuse of children as a cultural problem that needs to be addressed. She understands the need to denounce the silent violence visited upon children by predators.

In Cuba, young women have been mutilated for defending the ladies in white, while mothers have been threatened with sexual violence, and in at least one case with the rape of her five year old daughter. This was done by agents of the regime and is an example of the institutional violence against women.

Even this past Saturday, as Diana Nyad began her historic swim, a Cuban mother and her son were targeted by government agents in a vehicle who twice tried to run them down and kill them. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this has happened, and there is a previous case of a woman who was killed following this pattern of attacks in 2011.

John Suarez John Suarez

John Suarez is a human rights activist who has spoken before the United Nations Human Rights Council on several occasions. He is a specialist on the human rights situation in Cuba. John hosts the blog Notes From the Cuban Exile Quarter. Follow him on Twitter @johnjsuarez.