Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan is ignoring an appeal by wives and mothers of imprisoned Cuban political dissidents for her to visit Cuban prisons during her trip this week to protest the treatment of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay.
The Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, who march silently through the streets of Havana every Sunday in protest at the incarceration of political prisoners of the Castro regime, wrote a letter to Ms. Sheehan inviting her to visit Cuban prisons.
The Damas drew Ms. Sheehan's attention to the poor state of Cuban prisons, which they say lack clean drinking water and adequate food and where their relatives are imprisoned solely for speaking out against Fidel Castro's government.
The leader of Ms. Sheehan's trip, Medea Benjamin, said the American activists had not seen the letter and that they would be focusing solely on Guantanamo.
"It just so happens that this is where the [Guantanamo] prisoners are," Ms. Benjamin said. That the group is visiting Cuba, where prisons define daily life for many, is "very incidental," she added.
The Sheehan trip has angered some who believe she should also address Cuba's imprisonment of political dissidents during her visit, not just those held in the American military prison.
"The fact that there's so many Cubans in prison simply for expressing their political beliefs — nobody seems to pay attention to that," the director of government relations at the anti-Castro Cuban-American National Foundation, Camila Ruiz Gallardo, said.
Other Cubans said they hoped Ms. Sheehan's trip would highlight the prison-like separation of Cuban families with members divided between Cuba and America.
"She's also bringing attention to the travel restrictions, and that is something," the president of the Cuban-American Alliance Education Fund, Delvis Fernandez, who has criticized increased travel restrictions for families under the Bush administration, said.
Ms. Sheehan visited Guantanamo yesterday and planned to peer into the American prison from a watchtower on Cuban-owned land using a telescope.
Traveling with her is Zohra Zewawi, who is the mother of a Guantanamo detainee. According to Ms. Benjamin, when Ms. Zewawi was asked about her opinion on Cuba, she said she knew nothing about it. "I'm just here for my son," Ms. Benjamin reported her saying.