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Cuba's unseemly showdown with the Ladies in White appears to be over — at least for now. After blocking their path for the past three weeks, Cuban authorities allowed the group to resume its weekly protest march today along Havana's Quinta Avenida. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the island's highest-ranking Catholic official, told reporters that he had worked out an agreement with Cuban state security officials to allow the women to resume their low-key protest, at least through May.
The women are the wives and mothers of jailed government opponents who have been marching since 2003, when their loved ones were arrested in a political crackdown. And for seven years, it has been the only tolerated act of public protest against the Cuban government.
But when the Ladies upped the ante by staging daily protest marches around the city in March, the government pushed back, sending crowds of counter-demonstrators to berate and harass the women for three Sundays in a row, as foreign TV crews recorded the ugly spectacle. The government considers the women to be mercenaries in league with anti-Castro exile groups and U.S. officials.
Under the new agreement, the Ladies' supporters are not supposed to march with them, according to Cardinal Ortega. But some of the 12 women who participated in today's march were supporters, the group said. As usual, the women carried pink gladioluses and walked quietly in two-by-two formation, for a few blocks. Then they returned to stand in front of the Santa Rita cathedral to recite a prayer and chant "Libertdad!" (Freedom).
A few passing cars honked in support of the women, but most of the Cubans they passed on the street just stood and watched, neither joining nor condemning the women.