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"Pieces of the Island"-An English Translation
Category Archives: Anni Sarrion Romero
August 5, 2012Posted by on
Eighteen year old Gerardo Sarrion is imprisoned in the Yayal Prison of Holguin province, known better amongst Cubans as “Cuba Si”, under false charges of attempt and could be sentenced to 1 year behind bars, according to his relatives, who are human rights activists.
Gerardo is the son of Lady in White Anni Sarrion Romero and step-son of Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria, a pro-freedom activist of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). According to Vazquez Osoria, the teen has been threatened, beaten and detained on numerous occasions in the past but the most recent act of violence against him on behalf of the forces of the communist regime have landed him in jail.
“Gerardo was detained by the political police on July 15th 2012 in the municipality of Moa when he was on his way back home from Havana”, reported Osoria. “At that moment he was sent to the National Revolutionary Police Unit of Moa. When I was informed of this, I rushed over to that unit with my two daughters and began to protest”.
As he was demanding his step-son’s freedom outside the Unit, Vazquez Osoria explained that Gerardo was rushed out by the back section of the center and taken to another penitentiary in the town of Mayari. “On that day, the authorities did not give Gerardo any food, and on the next day he was transferred again from Mayari to the Yayal prison in Holguin. That day, they didn’t give him lunch. He has been in that same prison since then”.
Political police and State Security officials have alleged that the adolescent is being tried under charges of attempt against a local delegate of Moa- accusations which his mother and step-father have assured are completely false. They recently were able to obtain a visit with Gerardo this past Tuesday, July 31st in the Yayal (‘Cuba Si’) Prison. They described a youth who is under constant harassment but “very strong in spirit“.
During that visit, a State Security official by the name of Duglas (a well known oppressor of Ladies in White and other activists in that area) told the family that Sarrion’s case could lead him to prison for 1 year.
Vázquez Osoria explained that “State Security has been doing this against Gerardo for some time now because his mother and I think differently and we do not agree with this system. Previous to this, on May 24th 2012 he was detained and beaten by a delegate in Moa, under the orders of State Security officials Leandro Alba. He was also beaten by the political police on May 19th of 2011 and on February 6th 2011 he was one of the victims of a violent repudiation attack at the headquarters of UNPACU in Moa, where he also suffered beatings. He has been threatened so much to the point of being put in prison now”.
In the ‘Cuba Si’ prison, the youth has been forced to share a jail cell with an inmate with suicidal tendencies. His step-father alleges that the authorities have done this on purpose in an attempt to “terrorize him“. Gerardo’s cellmate has told him that he will cut himself with a knife. According to Osoria, on a constant basis “Gerardo also receives threats from his jailers“.
Anni Sarrion Romero has been fired from her workplace because of her involvement in the Cuban civic resistance movement and because she is a well known and active Lady in White. In 2011, she was victim of a very violent beating at her same workplace, an action which shattered some of her teeth and caused her other injuries. Meanwhile, Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria has also suffered reprisals due to his activism, including beatings and arrests at the hands of the political police. Both demand immediate and unconditional freedom for Gerardo Sarrion.
For more information Cuba:
Anni Sarrion Romero – Cell Phone: +5353-783-667
Large Military Operations in Holguin Intend to Impede Dissidents from Leaving Homes Until After Visit of Pope. #PopeCuba
March 22, 2012Posted by on
On the morning of Wednesday, March 21st, the State Security agent Yordanys Martinez Leon told Lady in White Caridad Caballero Batista that she could not leave the municipality of Holguin as she was arriving to the local bus station of Holguin city with intentions of traveling to Havana to solve some personal chores. “The official told me that we could not travel until after the 28th [the last day of the Pope's stay in Cuba], and I responded by telling him that I would take to the streets regardless“, explains Caballero. In the end, the activist was not able to travel to the Cuban capital.
Caballero adds that terminals are not the only locations under the control of the regime’s armed forces, but instead the entire city and province of Holguin remain under strict surveillance. “All the homes of dissidents in Holguin are surrounded. They are being impeded from leaving the municipality and even their own homes. There is a tremendous police operation throughout all the streets of Holguin, there are national police officers, members of the Ministry of the Interior, and State Security agents everywhere“, informed the Lady in White, who pointed out the cases of violence against dissidents including Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria who was “violently arrested on Tuesday night in Moa“. In fact, when Osoria’s wife- Lady in White Anni Sarrion Romero- called Caballero to communicate her denouncement, State Security forces barged into her workplace (where she was at the time) looking for her and the call dropped there.
Another case is that of Lady in White Milagros Leyva Ramirez who had been detained for various days and then released this past Friday, March 16th. “Although she was released“, explains Caballero, “she is still under warnings that she cannot leave her house. And that’s how all dissidents in Holguin are right now“.
Caridad Caballero Batista was mentioned once again in a report compiled by the Christian pro-human rights organization known as Christian Solidarity Worldwide this past Tuesday, March 20th. The report denounces that so far in 2012, the peaceful dissident has not been allowed to assist mass because she is violently arrested every Sunday. The most recent aggression against her occurred on Friday March 16th when she was arrested along with her son Eric and husband Esteban until the morning of Monday the 19th. The Christian organization also asks for “prayers for Caridad Caballero Batista” and other activists who are being impeded from arriving to church.
Pope Benedict XVI will arrive to Cuba on Monday, March 26th and a few hours later he will hold his first mass in Santiago de Cuba, in the Cuban East. Up to the moment, the cases of violence against dissidents in the East and throughout the entire island have increased dramatically. Ex prisoner of conscience and prominent human rights activist in the Eastern town of Palma Soriano, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, for example, has been reporting countless cases of phone interceptions by the political police and arbitrary arrests and threats of dissidents throughout the region. Due to the vigilance and censorship against him, his Twitter account- @jdanielferrer- is being updated part by him and part by his exiled brother Luis Enrique Ferrer.
For more information from Cuba:
Caridad Caballero Batista – Cell Phone: +5352-629-749 / Twitter: @caricaballero
March 11, 2012Posted by on
All the way from Palma Soriano, the former political prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia is informing that more and more anti-government signs keep propping up throughout that municipality and many other areas of Eastern Cuba. In the case of Palma Soriano, Ferrer explains that one of the spots where the most signs have surged has been in “the neighborhood known as Nueva Palma, and because of this the political police feels the need to blame someone“. In this specific occasion, the police has chosen to blame Daniel Quezada, a young dissident who has been detained (for this reason) in a dungeon of the Castro regime for one week now. In fact, Quezada has chosen to carry out a hunger strike in demand of his liberation.
Although Quezada is being accused of authoring the signs and putting them up, Ferrer Garcia points out that while he has been in jail “the signs keep popping up“. Quezada is being held in the National Revolutionary Police Unit of Palma Soriano and, according to various testimonies of dissidents who have recently been released from that punishment center, he has suffered a number of brutal beatings due to his pro-democratic posture.
Meanwhile, Ferrer Garcia has informed that three members of the Resistance and Democracy Movement (affiliated to the Patriotic Union of Cuba) have also been arrested. They are Rogelio Tavio, Niorvis Rivera, and Elmes Figuera who were all arrested by the political police this past Friday, March 2nd, while they were at the home of Tavio.
The arrest took place after these three did not allow the Cuban G2 (State Security) to use their children for acts of repudiation against non-violent dissidents. According to Twitter messages published by Jose Daniel Ferrer, the whereabouts of Elmes Figuera are unknown but it has been confirmed that Rogelio Tavio has been taken to the provincial prison while Niorvis Rivera is being held in the Imias Unit.
“According to the political police, two of these activists will be processed“, said Ferrer. Those two are Tavio and Rivera, both under the accusations of ‘public disorder and for attempting against child development’
Meanwhile, a dissident from the UNPACU- Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria- was violently arrested this past March 6th as he was traveling from Moa to Palmarito de Cauto. Osoria was detained until March 8th. Within the past few months, Osoria and has wife Anni Sarrion Romero have suffered countless acts of aggression at the hands of Cuban state police. In fact, Sarrion has been beat, threatened, and suspended from her job just for publicly demanding freedom for Cuba.
For more information from Cuba:
José Daniel Ferrer García – Cell Phone: 011- 5353-631-267; Twitter: @jdanielferrer
February 13, 2012Posted by on
This past weekend- from Friday February 10th to Sunday the 12th- was marked by the accustomed brutality of the communist Cuban dictatorship against the non-violent Resistance movement, especially on Sunday against Ladies in White and other dissidents who were simply trying to go to their respective churches. It is yet another case which Pope Benedict XVI should jot down on his agenda before visiting the island in March.
In the city of Holguin, Lady in White Caridad Caballero Batista and her husband (and also activist) Esteban Sandez Suarez were arrested at 8 in the morning. Like every Sunday, the husband and wife were trying to assist mass in the local Jesus Christ Redeemer of Man Church when they were violently interrupted “by a group of soldiers, uniformed Interior Ministry officials, political police officers, and State Security agents” who detained them under the orders of agent Douglas Torres, according to Caballero.
The arrest occurred a few blocks from the home of Batista and Suarez, and directly in front of ‘Hilda Torres’ Primary School, where a conglomeration of everyday citizens were standing about. These people saw everything. “We let all of these people know why we were being detained, who we are, and where we would be taken to“, explains Caballero, “none of these citizens reacted against us“. As they tend to do each weekend, the officials took the Lady in White and her husband to the Instructional Unit of Pedernales, where they are always confined to sealed off dark and damp cells which consist of concrete ‘beds’.
While in Pedernales, Caballero and Esteban were kept in separate cells. “While we were detained, the officials screamed very offensive and grotesque words at us“, denounces Batista, adding that among the many perversions the regime guards carry out, they also “told Esteban to take off his pants and enter the cell like that, which Esteban absolutely refused to do“. It was under that harassment and violence which both dissidents were kept detained until 12:30 in the afternoon of that Sunday.
Caridad and Esteban walked back home down the same route which led them to the detention center, and Caballero explained that the same people who had witnessed the attacks in front of the primary school “started to come up and talk to us as a sign of support“.
Meanwhile, in the town of Cacocum (Holguin province), the Lady in White Berta Guerrero Segura and her husband s were arrested in a similar fashion as they tried to go to the city of Holguin to join Caridad Caballero and Esteban Sandez in church.
Peregrino denounced that their home had been under total vigilance for days, “surrounded by State Security agents and Rapid Response Brigade members who were threatening us with sticks and cables“, but despite this, the activists decided to leave their homes and head towards church.
“During the arrest, they punched me on the mouth, and the agents started to push my wife and I into a police vehicle“, adds Franklin. From there, they were taken to the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) Unit, where they were kept until 11:30 AM. “Upon being released, our home remained under vigilance until 3 in the afternoon. This harassment occurs Sunday after Sunday, as well as on Wednesdays when we try to go to the home of Caridad Caballero to participate in a weekly vigil held there in solidarity with Cuban political prisoners. Once again, we denounce this torture to the world, this torture which State Security carries out against the peaceful opposition“, said the activist.
Dissidents Anni Sarrion Romero (Lady in White) and her husband Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria- residents of Moa- were kept in dungeons from Friday until Sunday, after being arrested at 11 pm on Friday. Sarrion Romero explained that “we left our home in Moa on Friday in order to make it to the Cobre Sanctuary by Sunday, and we even had to take many shortcuts and go through fields“. Upon arriving to the town of Mayari, however, a police vehicle was already awaiting them. They were rapidly arrested by force and shoved into the vehicle to be taken to the police unit of Mayari.
In this specific unit, they were constantly harassed each day. “They have a rule in the police units which says that every prisoner has to be lined up at 7 in the morning as the guards are changing shifts, and that is when 7 or 8 police chiefs arrive to carry out an inspection, or inventory“, explains Sarrion Romero. “On the first morning, they signaled out my husband, telling him that he had to take off his clothes for the inspection, which is a form of humiliation. And Juan Carlos refused. They told him that his attitude was disobedience (a crime for the dictatorship) and that they would beat him“. Osoria did not cooperate.
On the following day- on Sunday morning- the guards of the punishment cells tried doing the same with Anni. “They tried to pull me and throw me from my cement ‘bed’. I told them ‘you could accuse me of countless cases of disobedience but I was not going to step down, I will not lower myself before you all‘”. The Lady in White says that the guards responded by telling her “remember that they knocked your teeth out in Moa“, referencing a beating on Tuesday February 7th where two henchmen of the dictatorship punched Sarrion Romero, breaking two of her front teeth. In fact, an official named Leandro Mordago cynically told Anni during her arrest that she “looks very good with her teeth like that“. “I told them that they will have to kill me because I am not going to stop, and perhaps I will always be detained because I am going to continue traveling…and they really do not want us to travel to Santiago to assist mass in the Cobre Sanctuary“.
At 3 in the afternoon, both dissidents were released, although separately. “They took me under custody to my home in Moa, aboard a cop car. My husband was released and abandoned without money or anything else. He was able to make it all the way to the home of Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia in Palma Soriano“. The home of Romero and Osoria is constantly under attack by the forces of the Cuban dictatorship, as are their family members. In fact, their children are victims of beatings along with their parents and are not even allowed to work or travel within their own country.
Ex prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia informed through ‘Hablalo sin Miedo‘ that on Sunday the 12th, Ruben Torres, Julio Cesar Salazar and Yuselin Ferrer Espinosa (activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba) were arrested in Palmarito de Cauto as they were waiting to protest in case Ladies in White from that area were arrested. But despite the stifling repression, Ferrer pointed out that 42 Ladies in White made it to the Sanctuary of El Cobre in Santigo de Cuba while 9 Ladies made it to mass in Guantanamo, surpassing the chords of vigilance and violence of the Castro dictatorship.
Alarming and Rising Violence Against Cuban Resistance: Punches, Sticks, Raids, and Sexual Harassment
February 9, 2012Posted by on
In the municipality of Moa, in the province of Holguin, 3 Cuban regime henchmen carried out various physical blows against the Lady in White Annie Sarrion Romero to the point that they broke two of her front teeth this past Tuesday February 7th, according to her husband, the coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Moa, Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria.
The brutal assault occurred when Sarrion was on her way to her job on Tuesday morning. She was confronted by the group of men, under the direction of political police chief in that area, Leandro Morgado, and they all began to threaten her for her dissident activities. Amid the provocations, Sarrion stood firm and non-violent. The agents, however, responded with violence. Two of the “men” who punched her to the point of losing two teeth were Víctor Laurencio Blanco y Neuris Basulto.
According to Vazquez Osoria, Blanco and Basulto are waiting to travel to Venezuela to carry out medical missions in that country. “In the case of Victor, I know that he has already traveled twice to Venezuela, and now they all have their papers ready to travel once more“, denounced the activist. He adds that “pay is so poor here in Cuba that they have to do these things” to be accepted and approved by the regime to travel.
It is precisely against this corruption and violence which Osoria and Romero peacefully protest against, and for this reason, they are beaten, arrested, and suffer other sorts of harassment. For example, this same week, on Monday February 6th (the day before Annie was beaten), Juan Carlos Vazquez explains that along with his wife and other dissidents of the UNPACU they began to put up anti-government signs outside their home. “In our signs we wrote slogans like ‘just salaries for all workers’, ‘milk for the kids’, ‘freedom for all political prisoners’, and ‘down with hunger and misery’, in addition to putting up the UNPACU flag‘”, says Osoria. Quickly, during the afternoon, a mob repudiation attack was organized by the regime outside the house.
It was at this moment that the communist mobs raided the house. “Someone who goes by the title of Lieutenant Colonel Andres broke down our door, began to hit us, and even broke my cellphone“, denounced the dissident. The mobs then began to drag all the dissidents outside out of the house- Annie Sarrion Romero, Maritza Cardosa Romero (both Ladies in White), Mario Antonio Borges, and Geraldo Sarrion (son-in-law of Osoria).
“My wife was dragged, as we all were, and they beat her. They hit me over the head with sticks. And then we were all detained and taken to the local National Revolutionary Police Unit”, said Osoria.
Meanwhile, the national coordinator of UNPACU- the former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia- denounced that on Tuesday, agents of the dictatorship also arrested 5 activists of that pro-democracy group. Those arrested were Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres, Yanisel Figueredo Valdés, Kenya Leguin (Ladies in White), Julio Cesar Vega Santisteban and Elieser Consuegra Velázquez. “The men were released during afternoon hours, but up to this moment (Wednesday) the women have not yet been released”, explained Ferrer, who also classified this violence against the Ladies in White and the Cuban Resistance in general as an emergency.
“These women- the Ladies in White- are victims of a merciless and constant harassment; not only are they constantly and arbitrarily detained, not only are they beaten, but they are also confined to filthy prison cells in police units and, once there, police agents sexually harass them”, denounced the former prisoner of conscience. During the first weeks of 2012 countless cases of sexual abuse against the Ladies in White and other female dissidents have been reported. “They have inappropriately and forcefully touched these women while they search their bodies for phones, cameras, and camera memory cards. Not only do they suffer these searches of the entire body, but they are also touched and immobilized”.
Ferrer cites a specific example, when recently “a political police official brought a lover of his and started to have sex next to the cell where Lady in White Karina Quintana was being held, and later another agent arrived and started to make perverted sexual gestures at the Lady in White“. Another case was when “during the weekend of February 3rd to the 5th, on Saturday night, 2 agents of the police in the 3rd Unit of Santiago de Cuba- known as “the motorized unit”- walked into the cell where Lady in White Liudmilla Cedeno Martinez (wife of Guillermo Cobas, coordinator of UNPACU in El Caney) was detained and started to also carry out perverted gestures as they stared at the dissident“.
In addition, Ferrer pointed out examples in other parts of Cuba, like in Placetas (central Cuba) where women from the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights were recently arrested with much violence, and also sexual harassment. Among the women were Yris Tamara Aguilera, Idania Yanez and Damaris Moya- whom all confirmed that some were grabbed in the breasts or touched in other places by regime agents. Another case, as Ferrer cites, was against (also Lady in White) Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, in Havana. Fonseca is also victim of constant surveillance, physical aggression, and sexual harassment by communist henchmen. “It is not enough for the dictatorship to beat dissidents“, denounces Ferrer, “We know very well that tyrannies sustain themselves in power through very low and degrading acts, as the political police is doing here in Cuba. But it is very worrying and alarming, due to the magnitude of these actions against peaceful and brave women“.
Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria echoed the same denouncement, adding that “these acts of vandalism and aggression of the Castro regime are being done in order to plant terror in everyday people, so that they will not join the struggle for freedom. But people are noticing, because there is far too much necessity- the streets are not clean, there are no good schools for our children, hundreds of kids can’t even go to school, and many of those who do go without shoes because the streets are so bad that their shoes are torn“.
“And we are fighting against all of this, and that is why they violently attack us“, declares the dissident.
Jose Daniel Ferrer and Juan Carlos Vazquez are just some of the voices informing the world about the alarming and incrementing level of violence against dissidents in Cuba. We must listen.
October 31, 2011Posted by on
(via Laida Carro of the Coalition of Cuban-American Women)
A summary of the brutal repression in Cuba this past week, including reports of what just occurred this weekend- violent arrests of various Ladies in White and two hunger strikers being urgently rushed to the hospital, under life-threatening conditions. The regime tightens its grip, the resistance does not falter one bit:
PEACEFUL HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS CONTINUE FACING BRUTAL MOB ATTACKS, BEATINGS, AND ARBITRARY ARRESTS FOR THEIR PEACEFUL ACTIONS
October 30, 2011
In the Eastern city of Guantanamo, the home of Niovis Rivera Guerra, (member of the Resistance and Democracy Movement), his wife, Yurilaidy Travieso and three young daughters, 13, 9 and 3 years old, was surrounded by patrol cars, military vehicles, and subjected to, at least, two days of brutal mob attacks (October 25-26, 2011) of around 400 people. Asphalt was thrown against the house, all the windows, as well as the door, were stoned and broken, the family received death threats, and Rivera Guerra was beaten and tear gased. All this brutal violence was because the family displayed pro democracy and human rights posters in the front of their home. This is the fifth time in 2011, that the home of this activist is attacked. Several members of the Resistance and Democracy Movement were beaten and arrested when they tried to come to the aid of Niovis Rivera Guerra and his family: Hermis Figueras Ros, Francisco Osoria Claro, and the Adventist Pastor Raul Martinez Caraballo.
Also in Eastern Cuba, on October 26, 2011, several cities suffered government repression, In Contramaestre, any activist or citizen who visits the home of human rights defender, Jorge Cervantes is under scrutiny by the political police. In Moa, Rapid Response Brigades threw eggs against the home of the coordinator of the UMPACU, Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria and the Lady in White, Annis Sarrion Romero.
Two human rights defenders in Santa Clara (Central Cuba) who were on a hunger strike since September 28, 2011, demanding that the Cuban government put a stop to the violence against peaceful activists, were taken in critical state to the Provincial Hospital Arnaldo Milian Castro. Alcides Rivera Rodriguez was admitted to the hospital on Thursday, October 27, 2011, and diagnosed with bronchopneumonia. Rolando Ferrer Espinosa was admitted on the following day. Alcides has lost almost 60 lbs. while Ferrer Espinosa who is suffering a severe abdominal pain has lost over 30 lbs.of his body weight. Both continue in critical condition.
On October 24, 2011 several human rights activists were arrested in Havana when peaceful organizations such as the National Front of Civil Resistance and Desobedience and the Human Rights Party called on activists to gather at the Martin Luther King Park. Adjacent streets to this park were all surrounded by State Security agents. Among several activists arbitrarily detained and released were Sara Marta Fonseca and Rodolfo Ramirez Cardoso.
On Sunday, October 30, 2011, ten Ladies in White, in Eastern Cuba, were beaten and arbitrarily detained as they tried to attend mass in the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. The following women were mistreated and suffered short term detention: Aymeé Garcés Leyva (as well as her husband Julio Valcarcel), Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, Vivian Peña Hernández, Liudmila Rodríguez Palomo, Adriana Núñez Pascual, María Elena Matos, Oria Casanova Moreno, Yuremi González Pavót, Tania Bandera González, Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres and a minor 14 years old, Marta Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo the daughter of Lady in White, Belkis Cantillo and the expolitical prisoner of conscience, Jose Daniel Ferrer.
At least three homes of activists who had gathered in the Eastern cities of Palma Soriano and Palmarito de Cauto to protest the violence against the Ladies in White on October 30 were surrounded by repressive forces. Under siege were the following human rights defenders of the National Front Orlando Zapata as well as members of the UMPACU ( Patriotic Union of Cuba): Prudencio Villalon, Roberto Quiñones, Pedro Manuel Guerrero, Julio Cesar Salazar, Ruben Torres, Dany Lopez, Rudy San Ramirez, Rolando Humberto Gonzalez, Maximiliano Sanchez, Abraham Cabrera, Amauri Abelenda and Manuel Martinez.
FURTHER INFORMATION IN CUBA: José Daniel Ferrer – + 53 53631267 / Belkis Cantillo – + 53 53790867 /
Niovis Rivera Guerra – +53 53361314 / Jorge Cervantes – +53 53791610
Coalition of Cuban-American Women – Laida A. Carro / Joseito76@aol.com
October 19, 2011Posted by on
In memory and honor of Laura Pollan
Although a few days have passed since the death of Laura Pollan, I have not been able to update the blog during this time. The following report not only serves as proof of the constant repression in Cuba, but also as a tribute to Laura, considering that this Lady in White dedicated the majority of her time to resisting the Cuban dictatorship and fighting for human rights. In my opinion, like in the opinion of many other Cubans inside and outside of the island, the death of Pollan was the fault of the Castro regime. Some have said that the strange infection which she suffered from during her last days, which led her to the intensive care unit of the Calixto Garcia Hospital, was the product of a lethal injection given to her at the hands of government mobs- a theory which I do not in any way doubt, for they are very capable of this and much worse, and this must be kept into consideration. And, let’s say, that there was no lethal injection. Regardless, the reality is that the constant mob repudiation attacks, the brutal beatings, the blackmailing, and the harassment against this brave woman did play a crucial part in the deterioration of her health, and ultimately, her death.
The news of her death has been a very difficult blow for all Cubans, for that hurt, but not weak, resistance. Threatened, but not afraid. The example and spirit of Pollan will continue guiding the resistance, and no dictatorship can ever stop that.
Laura Pollan: A Cuban Repressed by the Regime, a Cuban Loved by her Compatriots
In less than two years, three known figures among the Cuban resistance have been killed by the Castro dictatorship- Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February of 2010, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia in May of 2011, and the most recent- Laura Pollan Toledo during this month of October 2011. And as has occurred after each one of these deaths, the funerary acts have been marked by the regime’s repression against dissidents and all those family and friends who wished to pay their final tributes to the victim.
It was around 7 PM on Friday, October 14th, when the news arrived. “Laura Pollan has passed away“, read various Tweets straight out of the island, after she had spent a little over a week in the intensive care unit of the Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana. From the very moment that her death was confirmed, Cubans in and out of the island mobilized to express their solidarity, their pain, and deep frustration. In Miami, Cubans shocked by the news- among them Reina Luisa Tamayo- congregated outside the popular local Versailles Cuban Restaurant, while the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity kept its doors open all night, offering a place to pray for the soul of the dignified Lady in White.
In Cuba, the pain shared by dissidents and relatives of Pollan was not respected by the dictatorship, which was expected. The political police and the National Police carried out an aggressive operation throughout the island, including in Holguin where dissidents Caridad Caballero Batista and Isabel Pena Torres were trying to get to the local bus station to travel to Havana to be present in the wake of Laura Pollan and express their solidarity with her relatives. “It was around 2:40 AM when we were intercepted on the street by National Police and State Security agents who shoved us in police vehicles and took us to the the Pedernales Unit“, the detainment center notorious for its completely dark cells and the aggression which functionaries treat inmates with, “The arrest was very violent, they pushed onto the vehicle, and State Security even gave orders to drag us through the floor“. The activists were kept in separate cells. Caridad added that on Sunday, at around 4 in the afternoon, a lieutenant by the name of Armando Rivera snatched the few belongings of Isabel Pena Torres which included documents of her medical history. Upon seeing this document, officer Rivera tore it to pieces and threw them on the floor. After an interrogation session and an aggressive beat down, Isabel had to pick up the pieces herself. Caridad and Isabel were later released from the dark and humid cells at around 8 PM on Saturday.
Caridad Caballero also informed of other violent arrests in other eastern parts of the country. “In Velasco, Holguin, Yonart Rodriguez Avila and his mother Mariblanca Avila were both detained as they tried to head to Havana. Instead they spent the night in prison cells“, while similarly “In Sagua, Anni Sarrion Romero and Milagros Leiva Ramirez, whom were traveling from Moa, were arrested at around 1:30 AM. Both women were beat off the bus by State Security and Political Police agents”. Caballero adds that despite the fact that she was detained for hours, her home remained surrounded by government agents the entire time.
During that same somber night when the news of Laura Pollan began to spread, police vehicles and G2 (Secret Police) agents immediately surrounded the home of former political prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia in the eastern town of Palmarito de Cauto. Ferrer’s wife, Belkis Cantillo, also tried to get to the funeral of Laura Pollan together with Aime Garces and Tania Montoya. The three women were arrested at around 11 PM. They were taking to the Police Unit of Contramaestre and from there they were transferred to the the 3rd National Revolutionary Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba, where they remained until Monday. Various activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) also suffered violent arrests- Leudis Fajardo Rivera, Martín Ruíz González, Mario Antonio Brocal Borges, Bárbaro Tresol Verdecía, Omar Wilson Estévez, Omar Pérez Torres, Yilian Pérez Sarrión, and Gerardo Guerrero Sarrión.
In Manzanillo, dissidents from the Independent and Democratic Cuban Party (CID) denounced that various activists from this same group had been detained, among them Juan Eduardo Salgado Jurado, Enrique Piñeiro Azahares, Abdel Mecochini Avalos, Manuel Enrique Peláez, Ramón Enamorado and Roberto Jurado Salgado as they tried to get to Moncada Avenue where they would take part in the signing of the condolences book for Laura Pollan. A few hours later, Ubaldo Manuel León suffered a mob repudiation attack in that same town.
In Banes, on Sunday October 16th there was a mass held in which various attendees prayed for Laura. The mass was assisted by dissidents Marta Diaz Rondon and Vivian Tamayo Ramayo. Upon concluding the services, both Rondon and Ramayo tried traveling to Holguin to join in solidarity with their fellow detained dissidents but they were arrested at around 11:30 AM and released at 1:50 PM. Ariel Cruz Meneses, Rafael Meneses Pupo, and Dayami Romero Ortiz were also arrested, at around 7:00 AM and released at 12 in the afternoon.
Former political prisoner of conscience Pedro Arguelles Moran reported that on the same night of Laura’s death, the regime’s police forces surrounded his home in Ciego de Avila, impeding him, and anyone else inside, from stepping outside to travel to the capital. The situation was repeated throughout the country, in a wide range of cities and provinces, while in Havana, the Maseda-Pollan family (accompanied by dissidents and friends) bid their final farewells to Laura Pollan. She was cremated a few hours later. The pastor and independent blogger, Ricardo Medina was present during the wake with his wife Katia Sonia Martin, also a Lady in White. Medina provided religious services for Pollan and published an excellent account which detailed the emotions of that somber moment on his blog. He also reported that his wife, Katia, and other women were intercepted by State Security agents on Sunday October 16th as they were taking floral arrangements to the Santa Rita Church . The government agents snatched their flowers and hurled them on the floor, destroying the arrangement altogether. Katia also suffered an arrest.
Even among so much pain and repression, solidarity and international support emerges
Although this has been a very difficult stage for the Cuban resistance, it is also important to point out that the devastating news of Laura Pollan’s death has also given way to an important emergence of solidarity amongst Cubans inside and outside of the island.
Some of these displays of solidarity have been:
Activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) demonstrated throughout the streets of Moa, Holguin, with signs which read ‘Laura has not died’ and ‘Laura, we will continue your struggle’. In Santiago de Cuba, Father Jose Conrado decided to dedicate his Sunday mass in the Church of Santa Teresita to Laura Pollan, while archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez did the same in another church. According to Jose Daniel Ferrer, various homes throughout the country declared themselves “in mourning”, hanging up signs honoring the fallen leader of the Ladies in White.
“Although it has been very sad for all of us, The Ladies in White and Ladies in Support will continue fighting for freedom, just like Laura always did. For us, she has not died. Laura continues to be alive in spirit, and she will be among us and guiding us, giving us strength to continue fighting against those who assassinated her. And we can say that, yes, she was killed, the government killed Laura through their countless beatings and even the disease she suffered from in her last days, which we cannot rule out the possibility that it was contracted at the hands of government mobs“, declares Caridad Caballero Batista from Holguin. From Placetas, Antunez declared through his Twitter account, “Laura, your brothers from the resistance are honoring you with the Resistance and Dignity Award“, while in Havana, the blogger Yoani Sanchez sported a T-shirt with Laura Pollan’s image all day in public, while also blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo handed the family in mourning a book of condolences.
On Sunday, a mass was dedicated in Havana to Laura Pollan in the Church of Santa Rita. It was accompanied by the weekly march of the Ladies in White, for the first time without their leader. It was attended by her husband, Hector Maseda, as well as Berta Soler and her husband Angel Moya, including many other Ladies and White and dissidents. Berta Soler declared that the movement of the Ladies in White had suffered a very strong blow but that it is emerging with much more strength, and that they would continue to be active and united in the name of Laura Pollan.
In the United States, various political figures joined Cuban dissidents in solidarity, from president Barrack Obama to Cuban-American legislators such as Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Marco Rubio, as well as Florida State Senator Bill Nelson. Other international leaders, from countries such as Spain and France, also offered condolences.
Cuban exiles in Tampa announced that there will be a march in honor of Pollan on Sunday, October 23rd, while Cubans in Madrid- in their majority former political prisoners from the Black Spring- also dedicated a mass to Laura.
During the Sunday Mass of October 16th, Miami’s Sanctuary for the Virgin of Charity (La Ermita de la Caridad) dedicated their services to Pollan, praying for her dignified soul. Attending were many former political prisoners and Ladies in White now in exile, who filled the sanctuary with white. The owner of Miami’s popular Versailles Cuban Restaurant- Felipe Vals- hung various signs throughout the locale which read ‘Zapata Lives and Laura Pollan Lives”, along with a note of admiration on behalf of Vals to Pollan which was placed at the entrance of the constantly busy restaurant. And as soon as the news came out, Miami Dade College announced that it would offer a scholarship which would carry the name of Laura Pollan.
Also in Miami, a number of exiled Cuban women have called on the community to carry out a vigil in memory of Laura Pollan, as well as to denounce the atrocities committed by the regime which lead to her death. The activity will take place on Friday, October 21st and will include the presence of a diverse range of exiled pro-freedom organizations such as MAR por Cuba, the Coalition of Cuban American Women, the Cuban Democratic Directorate, Exile United, Young Cubans in Action, and the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights (in exile). Meanwhile, Cuban musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan have announced that they are planning a massive event in honor of Pollan and in solidarity with the Ladies in White and Cuban resistance in general. After the assassination of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February of 2010 and after the brutal beat down of the Ladies in White on March of 2010, the Estefans carried out a march in Miami which was attended by more than 100,000 people marching down 8th street, dressed in white, and flowers at hand.
Another Cuban figure has joined the list of heroes and patriots which have lost their lives for dedicating their efforts for achieving Cuba’s freedom, and although deeply pained, we can now say, with certainty (among many others) that Pedro Luis Boitel Lives! Orlando Zapata Tamayo Lives! Juan Wilfredo Soto Lives! and yes, Laura Pollan Lives!