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After Fidel Castro's Death, Cuban Dissidents Continue Fight For Human Rights


While many Cubans are grieving the death of Fidel Castro, we're going to hear now from three women who are not in mourning. They're longtime Cuban dissidents who've been jailed many times for their opposition to the government. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro has this story on how they are dealing with Castro's death.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Miriam Leiva is a former diplomat and a longtime dissident in Cuba. She first heard the news on TV along with the rest of the country. She says she expected it, but it still felt like a weight had been lifted.

MIRIAM LEIVA: When is he going to set us free? The only possibility in Cuba was that he passed away. That's why I say relief. He's no more here. He's not interfering.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Marta Beatriz Roque is one of the most well-known opposition figures on the island. She was first arrested in 1999. She also saw the news on TV, and immediately her phone started ringing.

MARTA BEATRIZ ROQUE: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, "I've suffered a lot because of this man. This man has sent me to prison twice only because I thought differently. I lost my job as a teacher at the University of Havana. I've been beaten by the authorities. Both my arms have been fractured. When I heard that he had died, it was like a movie in my head, all these things. And I don't forgive him," she says.

Berta Soler, who heads the prominent group Ladies in White, which started out as a protest group by the wives and mothers of political prisoners, was at a speaking event in Miami when someone called her to tell her Castro was gone.

BERTA SOLER: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "And I said, what? The dictator is dead? No, I have to confirm it. I called Cuba, and it was so. And I said, it's one dictator less we have to deal with. I was happy," she says. She immediately flew back to Havana, though she says she was worried she would be arrested.

Relief, anger, joy - while Cuban state TV and the international press has been documenting the official events - and there have been nine days of mandated mourning - these women say his passing was personal. I met them in their respective homes over several days of interviews.

Soler says her group, Women in White, decided to pause their weekly Sunday protests where they dress in white and stand outside a church. She says it could be seen as an opportunistic provocation during the official mourning period.

SOLER: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "We've been protesting for 13 years, protesting and being repressed. We didn't decide not to protest this week out of fear. If we haven't been afraid for 13 years, much less now," she says. She says they will resume their activities after Castro is buried.

SOLER: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "This is a new stage," she says. "But Fidel and Raul are the same. They are both dictators. They are tyrants. Nothing is going to change just because Fidel is physically gone," she says.

Marta Beatriz Roque, who has been banned from leaving the country, says she thinks there will be change.

ROQUE: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I think Raul's hands will be less tied," she says. "People in the government still did things simply because Fidel had once decreed them." Roque, an economist by training, says the economy is in shambles here, and Raul will have to quickly move to allow more private enterprise, possibly even allowing the professional class, like doctors and lawyers, to work for themselves and not only the state.

ROQUE: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But all the women do not expect less political repression. Roque says dissidents have been arrested over the past week and have been harassed. Leiva, the former diplomat, says Raul Castro has put family members in the direct line of succession, and the military and its intelligence apparatus controls a huge part of the economy.

LEIVA: Everything has to be determined by Raul and the military. Raul placed the military in all the most important posts in Cuba. They control everything.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so she says their fight, even though Fidel Castro has died, goes on. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Havana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.