Pro-govt crowds surround Cuban dissident home

February 23, 2012 - 7:26 PM

HAVANA (AP) — A crowd of government supporters surrounded the home of a leading Cuban dissident on Thursday where opposition activists were quietly paying homage to a hunger striker who died two years ago.

Some 200 pro-government protesters shouted slogans and insults at members and supporters of the Ladies in White opposition group at the home of Laura Pollan, the late leader of the dissident group.

"Down with the worms!" and "Long Live Raul!" the government partisans shouted, the latter a reference to Cuban President Raul Castro. The standoff began in the afternoon and stretched on for hours.

Thursday marked the second anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban political prisoner who died in February 2010 after an 83-day hunger strike. A Damas leader, Berta Soler, said the Ladies in White were paying homage to Tamayo by reading from his writings.

"We have a right to meet and protest despite this repression," Soler said.

Cuba considers all dissidents to be mercenaries sent by Washington to destabilize the island's government. Pro-government protesters occasionally show up to scream insults at Ladies in White gatherings, particularly on important dates or anniversaries. Cuba maintains the counterprotests are spontaneous, though little is done to disguise coordination with security agents on the scene.