Last photo of the body of Laura Pollan, taken by the Rev. Ricardo Santiago Medina Salabarría
On the rainy afternoon of October 14 Laura Ines Pollan Toledo went to dwell in her Father’s house, without the cause of her death stated.
The independent journalist Lucas Garves was visiting my house when he received a call on his cell phone. It was the former prisoner of conscience Adolfo Fernández Saínz, from Radio Marti, wanting to confirm the news that Laura had suffered a cardiac arrest. We were not even aware of it, but promised to find out immediately.
I called Berta Soler but her cell phone said it was turned off or out of the coverage area. I managed to contact Laurita, Laura’s daughter, and she confirmed the news. She was on her way to Calixto Garcia hospital. Lucas went to the hospital and promised to keep us informed. He called his when he arrived and let us know she had died fifteen minutes earlier. My wife Katia was overcome by tears and I offered my first prayers for the eternal rest of her soul. And we started a communications network with all the delegated of the Cuban Independent and Democratic Party (CIS) at the national level.
Katia and Aimé Cabrales left for the hospital, fearing that the political police would prevent them from participating in the funeral. Once there it was still not known what they were going to do with Laura’s lifeless body. Two options were assessed: holding a wake and cremating it, or cremating it without a wake. Fortunately, they resolved to hold a wake and announced it would be in the funeral home at Calzada and K in Vedado. Katia informed me right away.
I left for the hospital with Abdel Rodríguez Arteaga to wait for the transfer of the body. Arriving there, we decided to continue to Calzada and K. We took a taxi. On arriving in Vedado, only the funeral home was without electricity. The park in front was packed with State Security agents. Berta told us to go to the national funeral home at Infanta and Benjumeda in Central Havana. So we continued in the same taxi and started to communicate with Yoani Sanchez and promised to inform her of any changes.
At the funeral home they were already expecting the news agencies. We waited for the body until after midnight. I coordinated with the clerk to provide us a Cuban flag to cover the coffin, and to not have to return to my house, two blocks away, for fear of being arrested. She undertook to provide it.
The cadaver arrives and they asked for two people to go and dress her. I asked permission to place with her a rosary that had been given to me in the Holy Land. Katia brought a dozen gladioli that were in my house. I went to where she was and was perplexed to see the degree of inflammation in the body. I discovered that they had lied on the medical reports when they said her kidney function was perfect; the edema could have been resolved with diuretics and I honestly believe that they didn’t do so for two reasons:
1 – Because fluid retention inhibits lung capacity, reduces blood flow and causes cardiopulmonary arrest.
2 – Because in the case where it does not cause cause cardiopulmonary arrest, the lack of oxygen to the brain leaves severe brain sequelae; Laura would then be a vegetable.
Two people came in to prepare her. Berta gave me the clothes and I dressed the lifeless body of my sister Laura. I put the rosary in her hands and on the left side three gladioli, symbols of her fight for the release of all the political prisoners. Berta painted her lips; I put on her eye make-up and combed her hair. I asked for help from the workers at the funeral home and they refused. Not even offering them money convinced them to help me; they only put her in the coffin. Berta kissed her forehead; I did the same telling her she would always be with us.
Then I took the last photo of the lifeless body of Laura Pollan (which illustrates this post).
We went to the chapel. There were close to two hundred people at the funeral home. I asked for the flag and the clerk refused, saying it was just for combatants. I found Maceda (Laura’s husband); he asked me to be present at the cremation and I accepted with honor. I asked everyone in the chapel to pray the rosary with me for the eternal rest of her soul. Then did so with great devotion. The Ladies in White present maintained an honor guard; then it was the turn of the former prisoners, and in general everyone present.
At 1:45 AM a State Security official and a funeral home employee with a cart came to take the body. I talked to Angel Moya and Berta and we three went to meet them saying we were told we would have two hours. I found Hector Maceda who had agreed to the request and we refused. Maceda asked for 15 more minutes. So, at 2:15 am we solemnly sang the national anthem. Next, the body was lowered, a moment I took advantage of to take a hair sample and particles of skin which I friend will take to a foreign laboratory in hopes of finding out the true cause of Laura Pollan’s death, because the medical certificate never listed dengue fever as the cause. Instead it said “Type 2 diabetes mellitus, broncho-pneumonia, Cincinnati virus.”
We did not see Laura’s body again. They took us to the crematorium of the new cemetery in Guanabacoa. According to State Security the body should be reviewed by legal medicine to approve the cremation. On arriving at the cemetery a State Security official saw us coming from the doorway and hid himself in an office where later — when the went in carrying a tray of coffee — we saw four more. Afterward I saw the hearse enter; I asked the clerk and she confirmed, “yes, that is your case.” Berta and I asked to see Laura’s body one last time. A very energetic lady told us it was forbidden. I contradicted her saying I had information about a peephole where one could see the process. She repeated firmly, “It is forbidden.”
Maceda asked us to be disciplined and to go with him into the waiting room. We agreed as he was the one directly bereaved. The overbearing lady brought in Laura’s earrings and a hair clasp and Maceda signed as proof that her belongings were returned to him.
They told us the process was over. Maceda asked me to receive the ashes and enthrone them in his house where he had announced that the book of condolences would be open at 9:00 am. It was almost 5:00 am when we got to the headquarters of the Ladies in White, Laura’s and Hector’s house. About fifty people were already there. We hung up the flag. Angel Moya and I cleared off a table where we placed the urn.
Among those present was Diosdado González (another of the 75), my former companion from prison. I greeted him and his wife, Alejandrina García de la Riva.
At 6:00 am we all prayed the rosary with Laurita (Laura Pollan’s daughter). To comply with the wishes of her mother, she announced she had decided to divide the ashes: one part would be taken to the family vault in Manzanillo; the other would be spread in a field of flowers. The ashes were not exposed because Maceda considered it counterproductive to do so. Laurita took the urn to Manzanilla. Then, on Sunday morning, she reported that she had deposited them with those of the Pollan family.
A 9:30 I led another prayer of the rosary, and at noon we prayed the Angelus for the soul of Laura with the Hole Response.
Flower arrangement dedicated to Laura Pollan, broken and thrown into the public street. Photo: Ricardo Santiago Medina Salabarría.
I returned to my house with a bouquet of white flowers that would be taken to Santa Rita church on Sunday, an action we were not able to complete because Katia, Aimé Cabrales, Elizabeth Kawooya Toca, Abdel Rodríguez Arteaga, Hans Delgado Arteaga and Juan Manuel Lara Vidal were arbitrarily arrested on leaving my house. During the arrest Lieutenant Juan of State Security broke the flower arrangement in the public street.
All that is left for me is to pray for eternal rest of her soul, to continue her tireless struggle, to support the collective of women she founded after the vents of the Cuban Black Spring (2003), and that she led for eight long years. I continue to offer my humble abode as an alternative site for the Ladies in White and will live with the confidence that Laura Pollan Toledo will remain forever among us.
October 18 2011
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