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"Pieces of the Island"-An English Translation
Category Archives: Ladies in White
May 21, 2013Posted by on
This 20th of May 2013, Cuban Independence Day, Cuban exiles and other members of the community of Miami went to the historic Freedom Tower, where hundreds of Cubans passed through in the 1960′s when they arrived to the United States as refugees, to participate in a chat with 3 Ladies in White: Berta Soler (national representative of the group), Laura Labrada (daughter of Laura Pollan) and Belkis Cantillo (representative of the group in Santiago de Cuba). It was an event organized by Miami Dade College.
Before the chat, the 3 Ladies in White offered a press conference, in which dissident Guillermo Farinas also took part in. There, they responded various questions by the press and debated topics such as the constant repression they face in the island for trying to assist Sunday Mass, the fact that former political prisoners of conscience can’t travel outside of the country, the warm welcome on behalf of the Cuban exile community and the current situation of the youth on the island.
Soler called on young Cubans on the island to not leave the country and to stay and fight for it, while she also called on the children and grandchildren of the older exiles to keep supporting the struggle for freedom from wherever they are.
Once the last questions were asked by the press, the 3 activists went up on stage, where Miami Dade College’s president, Eduardo Padron, awaited them. The audience received them with a standing ovation.
Cuban-born international pop star Gloria Estefan shared some words about the symbolism of the Freedom Tower and about the importance of the Ladies in White and their peaceful activism in Cuba. She pointed that “we Cubans are just one people, and nothing will ever change that, ever“. The singer handed the women a plaque with photos of the march in which thousands of Miami residents took to the streets in support of the Ladies in White on March 25 of 2010. The march was convoked by the Estefans after the women were brutally beat by State Police in Havana on March 17th and was caught on film. Estefan explained that the police authorities of Miami had confirmed to her that more than 230,000 people took part in the historic march for solidarity down Miami’s emblematic Calle Ocho.
Soler, Labrada and Cantillo were interviewed by Miami-based journalist Maria Elvira Salazar. They discussed topics such as the acts of state repression against them and other dissidents for defending freedom, the current situation of the everyday Cuban citizen, the motives which led them to take up their struggle, their convictions, and the legacy of Laura Pollan, fallen leader of the group. Her daughter, Laura Labrada, or “Laurita” as she is known within the Ladies in White, affirmed that the regime had to do with Pollan’s death. In an emotional statement, she also expressed that her mother’s passing only gave her more strength to march not only for the freedom of all political prisoners, but also the freedom of an entire nation.
Before the event came to an end, Eduardo Padron handed the women the Miami Dade College’s Presidential Medal of Freedom with the words “Guardians of Freedom” engraved.
It was another one of those encounters which reminds Cubans that, despite the geographic distance and the difference of ideas, we are only one people, one nation, that fights for freedom and needs each and every one of its sons and daughters to achieve this goal.
All photos taken by Raul Garcia and Jennifer Hernandez from “Pedazos de la Isla”. Feel free to share.
May 19, 2013Posted by on
Each Sunday, police forces are deployed throughout the municipality of Antilla, in Holguin province, with the mission of carrying out an arrest. It’s not about a citizen who robs stores, or who breaks into homes or who kills or harasses other citizens. No. It has to do with a Lady in White: Mildred Noemi Sanchez Infante. The police cordons are also activated when there are other civic activities taking place, just like the monthly encounter which the Ladies in white carry out. The harassment has been so severe that the mentioned activist has not been able to assist Sunday Mass in 2013 so far to pray for the freedom of all political prisoners as all these women do throughout the island.
Sanchez Infante was arrested at around 5 AM this past Friday, May 17th, as she was trying to travel from Antilla to the city of Holguin to participate in the monthly meeting held by the Ladies in White in that province. The main agent in charge of the arrest was Yosvany Reyes Maltrapa.
“Agent Maltrapa twisted my left arm and with his other hand he punched my mouth“, explained Mildred. The activist was kept in a dungeon of a police unit until a couple of minutes past 10 AM, after the meeting had come to an end.
A couple of State Security agents also threatened Mildred’ mother, telling her that she should “talk her daughter out” of participating in dissident activities. If she didn’t do so, they would both suffer the consequences, one agent told the lady.
Mildred suffered yet another threat. “Agent Yosvany told me that he was going to attack me, or ‘get me’, one of these days when I was alone“, she denounces.
“They always arrest me“, expressed Mildred, “in 2013 so far I have not been able to assist Mass in the city of Holguin…not even here in my own neighborhood of Antilla. When the police sees that Mass ends, then they release me. I don’t have the exact number of arrests I’ve had so far in 2013. I have not been able to participate in the reunions of the Ladies in White, in mass, or in another other peaceful activities of the opposition“.
Listen to Mildred Noemi Sanchez Infante’s testimony (in Spanish) here:
This repression against the Ladies in White and other pro-freedom activists in the province of Holguin is constant. Berta Guerrero, resident of the city of Holguin and representantive of the female group for the province, denounces that each Sunday a number of women are arrested when they try to make it to Mass. In fact, a police agent has even told them that they would have to “buy a helicopter” if they wanted to make it to church.
For more informaiton from Cuba, contact:
Mildred Noemí Sánchez Infante- Cell Phone: +52-615-097
May 16, 2013Posted by on
Technology and social networks once again prove their importance when it comes to Cuba, despite the fact that the totalitarian system practices a severe form of censorship.
Caught on camera above is Kenny Aguero, a State Security agent in the province of Matanzas. The photo was taken by former political prisoner Ivan Hernandez Carrillo and published on his Twitter account (@ivanlibre). Aguero operates mainly in the city of Cardenas and is a repressor of dissidents, especially of Ladies in White, such as Leticia Ramos Herreria and Elizabeth Pacheco. He dedicates himself to persecute this women, verbally offend them, arrest them and beat them without mercy (testimony in this audio). In one of his most recent actions against the opposition, he summoned Marisol Fernandez Socorro, also a Lady in White, to a police unit because of her activism out on the streets.
In the following photo, also published by Hernandez Carrillo, is Aurio Cueto, another collaborator of the regime:
According to Ivan, Cueto testified against him and also activist and former prisoner of conscience Felix Navarro during their trial in the Black Spring of 2003, when 75 journalists were sent to prison. Both Matanzas natives were sentenced to 25 years behind bars. Cueto currently continues to keeping a tight vigilance over activists in different cities of Matanzas, as well as helping the police to arrest them for their peaceful activities.
With each photo, each Tweet, and each post in an alternative and free blog, the impunity of the dictatorship continues to dissolve.
For more information from Cuba, contact:
Ivan Hernandez Carrillo- 52-599-366 / Twitter: @ivanlibre
May 15, 2013Posted by on
Another video has been published of the march carried out by the Ladies in White this past Mother’s Day, 12th of May, in Havana, in honor of Cuban mothers around the world. The women marched to the Santa Rita Church and later held a public meeting in the Gandhi Park of the same city.
This new video, filmed and edited inside of Cuba by members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), demonstrated the mentioned activity. Don’t miss it:
May 14, 2013Posted by on
Cuban born musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan recently met with Pope Francis in the Vatican and took a very special message to him in the name of the people of Cuba.
According to a report by ‘CBS’, the Estefans asked the Pope to please pray for human rights on the island. It’s the second time they do so, the first being with Pope John Paul II.
Pope Francis recently met with the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, after a public Mass and told her and the Cuban people to “continue onward”.
Gloria Estefan is slated to host a chat this upcoming Monday, May 20th, with Soler and other Cuban activists in Miami’s Historic Freedom Tower. The 20th of May is also Cuba’s Independence Day, which is not recognized by the dictatorship. The event is free but tickets are required and can be obtained here, through Miami Dade College.
On March 25th 2010, Gloria and Emilio organized a massive march down Miami’s 8th Street (‘Calle Ocho’) in solidarity with the Ladies in White after a brutal beating by the political police on March 17th 2010 in Havana which was caught on film. More than 100,000 people participated in the march, most of them dressed in white, in a gesture of support with the Cuban women.
May 14, 2013Posted by on
As was recently reported, Ladies in White marched throughout the island this past 12th of May- Mother’s Day. In Havana, they dedicated their march to Laura Pollan Toledo, leader of the group who died in 2011 in extremely strange and mysterious circumstances. Her daughter, Laura Labrada Pollan, read some emotional words in her memory. The women also demanded the immediate release of Sonia Garro Alfonso, Cuban mother and Lady in White who has been behind bars for 1 year and 2 months.
They also sent a message to Berta Soler, representative of the group, thanking her for her tireless work taking the Cuban reality to the world. Angel Moya Acosta, dissident leader and former political prisoner, published some photos of this activity on his Facebook account. He also uploaded the following video on his YouTube channel:
May 13, 2013Posted by on
The Ladies in White marched through the streets of Cuba this Sunday, May 12th, in honor of Mother’s Day, sending out greetings to Cuban women around the world, as well as a special tribute to Laura Pollan Toledo, deceased founder of the group. It was confirmed that some women suffered reprisals at the hands of the political police, although the majority were able to carry out their weekly march, flowers at hand, to assist Mass and pray for the freedom of all political prisoners.
In Havana, 48 Ladies in White marched down 5th Avenue accompanied by 29 male human rights activists. They dedicated their walk to all the mothers of the world, according to a tweet published by former political prisoner and dissident leader Angel Moya Acosta (@jangelmoya).
Leticia Ramos Herrería, representative of the group in Matanzas, said that a total of 17 women marched and assisted Mass in the entire province. She added that in Cardenas, city where she resides, “11 Ladies in White were able to march for 11 blocks after Mass all the way to the Monument of the Mothers, where we deposited 2 bouquets of flowers“.
After that tribute, Herreria explained that the activists began to shout “Long Live Laura Pollan” for various minutes. In this occasion there were no arrests but there was a constant vigilance by the police.
“Meanwhile“, recounted Leticia, “Citizens were congratulating us and wishing us a Happy Mother’s Day when we marched by them. There was a display of solidarity“.
In the province of Holguin things looked a bit different. Although 10 Ladies in White managed to arrive at their respective temples, some were arbitrarily arrested by the political police.
Berta Guerrero Segura, representative of the women’s group for the mentioned province, said that all the Ladies in White from Holguin “awoke that morning with their homes surrounded by State Security, under strict vigilance. The operation had started at dawn“.
Two of the detainees were Eimirce Cespedes Estrada (from Velasco, Holguin) and Yarelys Castaneda Almarales (Holguin). The latter “was detained together with her 1 year old son who she was carrying in her arms. Just like that, the political police took them to a dungeon for a number of hours“.
Her husband was also physically assaulted by various agents who applied a headlock on him when he came in defense of his wife.
Guerrero adds that Yolanda Perez Diaz, who is not a Lady in White but a member of the dissident Claridad Movement of Holguin, “was intercepted by agent Adony Charles, of State Security, who told her that she was on his bad side that morning and that he wouldn’t let her come out of her house“.
“I am denouncing the constant abuse, the harassment, and the psychological war carried out by State Security against us, the Ladies in White of Holguin. These violations are constant. In fact, they have told us that we will never be able to go to church“, said Guerrero Segura.
In Palma Soriano 33 Ladies in White marched and successfully made it to church while in the municipality of Santiago de Cuba another 21 Ladies made it, according to declarations made by Ana Celia Rodriguez to this blog. Rodriguez was one of the Cubans recently on hunger strike demanding the release of activist Luis Enrique Lozada Igarza. Her health, like that of the majority of all other former strikers, is still delicate.
The majority of the members of the Ladies in White are mothers and chose to dedicate the symbolic date in honor of so many women who have risked their lives fighting for the freedom of not only their families but also of the entire nation, as is the case of Sonia Garro Alfonso, a Lady in White and Cuban mother who is currently in prison and has been for 1 year and 2 months.
Not even on Mother’s Day does the regime respect these women, carrying out arrests and keeping them under strict vigilance, but they keep praying, they keep speaking out, they keep marching.
In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s a video made by the authors of this blog in 2012, in honor of the Cuban woman:
For more information from Cuba, contact:
Leticia Ramos Herrería- Cell Phone: +52-481-807
Berta Guerrero Segura- Cell Phone: +53-632-110
Ana Celia Rodríguez- Cell Phone: +52-996-531
May 8, 2013Posted by on
The representative of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, assisted a Mass offered by Pope Francis in the Vatican after a special invitation to be seated front row.
According to the official website of the Ladies in White, as soon as the Pope concluded his Mass he greeted everyone seated up front, among them Soler.
The activist was present with a Cuban flag and she told the Pope that she came in representation of the Ladies in White, the relatives of political prisoners and Cuba.
After giving him her his blessings, the Pope told her: “Continue onward“.
Simple but profound words.
Pope Francis has done what his predecessor, Benedict XVI, chose not to do when he was in Cuba during March 2012: dedicate one moment for those who fight for freedom on the island.
Berta Soler has said that this encounter has been one of the highlights of her trip outside of Cuba.
May 8, 2013Posted by on
A young Cuban can finally hug his father- unjustly imprisoned for nearly one month- and a massive hunger strike by more than 60 citizens has come to an end, yielding positive results.
The protest was initiated by members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in demand for the release of activist Luis Enrique Lozada Igarza. He was arrested by the political police on April 9th after they raided his home in Maffo, Contramaestre. His crime? Offering his house each Tuesday to impart courses on peaceful resistance and civil disobedience. At the moment of his arrest, Lozada started a hunger strike. Members of his family followed his protest, starting their own strikes. Among them his 17-year old son Enrique Lozada, his wife Darmis Aguedo, his brother Arnoldo Lozada, and others. In just a few days about a dozen other activists, under the lead of former political prisoner and leader of UNPACU Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, also started strikes. Eventually, more than 60 dissidents in different regions such as Palma Soriano, Holguin, San Luis and Gibara were on hunger strike.
After what seemed like countless acts of repudiation, arrests, and threats by the political police, as well as serious health complications product of more than 4 weeks on strike, the activists achieved their objective on the night of May 7th: The authorities handed a document to Enrique Lozada, explaining that his father would be released, promising that he would be back home in Contramaestre on the following morning.
Upon confirming the news, the young activist finally stopped his strike, drinking juice. Enrique moved the world after he published a video assuring that he was willing to die for his father. His health was seriously affected.
“I am giving thanks in the name of the family and in the name of the hunger strikers, thanks to the hundreds of UNPACU activists that were carrying out different actions throughout the country, thanks to activists of other organizations who joined us in solidarity, thanks to our brothers in exile who have always backed us with solidarity”, expressed Jose Daniel Ferrer in one of the first audios published on the YouTube account of UNPACU.
The release of Lozada Igarza did not come easy. The same day in which the news was made public- May 7th- the regime unleashed a brutal wave of repression against various strikers and other activists showing solidarity. On that same afternoon, the political police assauled the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital of Santiago de Cuba, where some of the strikers had been taken, forcefully removing them. Some were beat and abandoned in different parts of the province. In the case of Lady in White Ana Celia Rodriguez, police agents ripped off her IV, which caused her much bleeding, according to a report by her son, the young activist Anyer Antonio Blanco Rodriguez. The same occurred with Ernique Lozada, who even passed out after strong aggressions.
Another activist who was forcefully removed from the hospital was 60-year old Dionisio Blanco Rodriguez, while activists displaying solidarity in front of the hospital were also beat and detained, as was the case of Ovidio Martin Castellanos, among others.
In Holguin, the hunger strikers Franklin Peregrino del Toro and Pedro Leiva Gongora were denied medical assistance on various occasions, but the protests by a number of dissidents forced the local hospital to assist him. The State-sponsored violence could not impede activists from joining the strikers in support. In Pinar del Rio, more than 50 dissidents held fasts, backing the call for Lozada Igarza’s freedom. Members of other pro-freedom movements like the Ladies in White, the Republican Party of Cuba and the OZT National Resistance Front carried out marches, protests, encounters and other activities in solidarity.
A campaign started by everyday citizens was created outside of Cuba, where activists used social networks to denounce the situation plaguing the strikers and in search of support. Various petitions were created with the purpose of taking the details to international human rights organizations, while in Twitter the hashtag #HuelgadeHambreUNPACU (“HungerStrikeCuba”) was created. This pressure led various politicians and other public figures to make public statements in favor of Luis Enrique Lozada’s release.
Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, representative of UNPACU in exile, started a fast alongside other activists in a display of support for those risking their lives on the island. They maintained the fast until the very moment in which Lozada’s liberation was announced.
This has been another series of actions that prove that Cubans can achieve positive things in their country and it is more proof that citizens do have power. The internal opposition, through the civic protests of UNPACU and others, left the dictatorship with no other option but to release human rights activist Luis Enrique Lozada.
It is clear that the regime has sent a message of violence to the opposition with their wave of aggressions during the strike, specially on the last day, just minutes before releasing the activist. But dissidents have also responded, sending their own message to the dictatorship:
“We will keep up the struggle…we have been able to get one man out of the dungeons of the tyranny, but other political prisoners are still behind bars in inhumane conditions”, said Jose Daniel Ferrer, mentioning more than 40 UNPACU activists who are imprisoned for having different ideas, “but we will continue fighting for their freedom, and for the freedom of Cuba, with much more strength, with much more dedication, and much more desire than ever”.
*Congratulations to all those who risked their lives for the release of an innocent man. – (Pedazos de la Isla)
May 7, 2013Posted by on
After Berta Soler’s emotional trip to Miami- the heart of the Cuban exile- she has continued to take the Cuban reality to other places with many exiles, such as New Jersey and now, Puerto Rico. The following is my translation of a piece by Mario Alegre Barrios, published in one of Puerto Rico’s most famous newspapers, “El Nuevo Dia”. It is a must-read interview with Soler:
“We cannot wait for the Castros to die”
Berta Soler, president of the Ladies in White, says that a social explosion in Cuba is imminent
By Mario Alegre Barrios / firstname.lastname@example.org
When we said goodbye to each other two years ago, in Havana, neither of us thought that we would see each other again. At least I didn’t.
I was wrong.
The face of Berta Soler- cofounder and president of Cuba’s Ladies in White- now has another Light: her stare shines and draws a white smile which contrasts that solemn expression we met at the home of Laura Pollan, the headquarters of this group which, for the last decade, has been one of the fundamental fronts of resistance against the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro.
Visiting Puerto Rico since last Wednesday, today Berta continues the trip she started nearly two months ago and which led her- along with two other Ladies in White- to Brussels to receive the Andrei Sakharov Award which was given to the women by the European Parliament in 2005, acknowledging their struggle for human rights.
In the same way she gave that chat in the summer of 2011, Berta speaks in torrents, as if time was running out to speak about the reality of her country which has been under the longest dictatorship in the world (for more than half a century).
The alleged liberalization of requisites to travel abroad which were announced with much hype by Cuban president Raul Castro a few months ago is nothing other than “cosmetic”- assures Berta- which represents nothing for the lives of the majority of Cubans. For them, the $100 for a passport is a fortune.
“The Cuban government is trying to employ many strategies so that the International community may think that there are changes in Cuba”, says Berta. “In Cuba nothing has changed for the good…there are cosmetic changes which are not going to fix the problem. These changes in travel laws, for example, are not real; they are just selling another image”.
“When they announced the trips”, she adds, “the people were very happy, they thought ‘we are finally going to be able to travel’, when the reality is that virtually no one has the $100 to pay for the passport and if they obtain that amount then it is nearly impossible for them to buy the Visa, a plane ticket, and even less, to have enough money to pay for their stay outside the country. That’s why this change, in reality, is just a big lie”.
This woman- a microbiologist by profession who had to stop practicing her career because she opposed the dictatorship- explains that when she and her fellow Ladies asked to leave the country to pick up the Sakharov Award, “the government, which knew we would continue denouncing the situation abroad, only had two alternatives: let us travel, which was bad for them, and not let us, which would have been even worse because there would be absolutely no justifications”.
“For us this trip has been very important because we have taken Cuba’s reality to the world, firsthand, and have denounced the government which is asphyxiated, desperate in its attempt to make the world think that they are implementing positive changes”.
Cofounder of the Ladies in White alongside Laura Pollan- who died on October 14th of 2011- Berta explains that this group was born in 2003 to “go to church to pray for the freedom of our loved ones” after that same year the government jailed 74 men and 1 woman for political motives. The prisoners were finally released in 2011 after the Catholic Church’s mediation and the collaboration of the Spanish government.
However, since 2008, the group’s leadership became even more inclusive and took up the cause of defending all peaceful political prisoners, “and for those that weren’t political, we also demand that the government respect their fundamental rights”.
“Violence against us has increased”, explains Berta, referring to the actions carried out by the brigades of State Security, “they punch us, they strip our clothes off in public, they deport us from the city during dawn hours, they tie us, drag us through the streets and even carry out gestures as if they are going to shoot us with guns”.
The list continues: they get spit on, are under vigilance for 24 hours, are kept in buses for more than 2 days without permission to go to the bathroom, and when they absolutely cannot hold it anymore they are allowed to do so but only next to the vehicle, under the stare of the police agents who mock them.
“This happens in all the provinces of Cuba… In December 2011 we created delegations from Guantanamo to Pinar del Rio (East to West). We are already more than 230 Ladies in White”, she says, “With our resistance we have won over Fifth Avenue (Havana) and they can’t tolerate that. Nearly every Sunday they physically assault us, just for marching in silence with a flower at hand”.
With the death of Laura Pollan, the group’s presence did not waver and her memory turned into inspiration for those who display solidarity with the Ladies in White.
“We are continuing her legacy. Laura was a dignified, bold and smart woman who achieved the release of our loved ones who, in reality cannot be classified as ‘freed’ because they still have an extra penal license and their causes are still open”, she explains. “The government has always done all in its power to train women and infiltrate our movement. That doesn’t worry us because we are peaceful and transparent women”.
In regards to the Sajarov Award, Berta says that “we knew the day would come where we would be in Brussels” to receive it. She adds that this international acknowledgment “is a shield, a protection for our struggle and also a compromise with the European Parliament”.
Perhaps like never before, now the struggle seems to be reaching its climax with a regime that is significantly eroded, and a people whose patience is at very critical level.
Berta sighs when she assures that “we cannot wait for the Castros to die, our struggle cannot wait for that”.
“There are people who last 100 years or more”, she points out, “Now there is a growing group of dissidents, many of them who are young and organized… we are waiting for the social explosion, something which is about to happen at any moment. We have to be ready to guide those people and remove the Castros in order to have a new Cuba where democracy is respected, where human rights are respected. People are already expressing themselves publicly on the streets, on the buses, in the hospitals, in the market, because the Cuban government has nothing to offer, just hunger and repression”.
With this same idea, Berta adds that “for more than 50 years the government has only handed out fear and repression… it is important that, now, we have been able to come out to ask the International community for moral and spiritual support, and that the heads of States take up a hard line approach with the Cuban government”.
“We blame the Castro regime, signaling it as a violator of human rights”, she insists. “When everyone outside of Cuba raises their voices, the Cuban government will be unarmed”.
The chat then takes a turn towards the subject of the political situation in Venezuela and what it means for Cuba.
“For the Cuban government, it is very worrying. Chavez gave barrels of oil to Cuba which did not go to the people”, she comments. “At this moment, Cuba is very afraid because the help from Venezuela could collapse at any moment. Maduro may not give Cuba the same resources which Chavez gave them. That is one factor that may affect the regime. That is what we want: that the Cuban government be asphyxiated”.
- Are you happy?
“No, I am not, because there is no freedom in my country. Because I live in a country without rights, where my children are kicked out of school because they are the sons and daughters of a counter-revolutionary”.
- Do you feel hate?
“Not at all, there is only love in my heart… I do not hate anyone”.
- Not even the Castro brothers?
“No, I do not hate them. I only pray that real justice condemns them as should be. That’s why I don’t want them to die; I hope they live to see the change in Cuba. That would be their punishment. God is the one who knows when to take life away, and I pray He doesn’t take their life just yet. God has not taken Fidel Castro because he has no place for him, while the devil must think ‘he can’t come here either because he’ll take my spot away’”.
Once again, her laughter. She seems to be full of certainties now.
We end our chat.
We hug. She says she hopes we see each other again some day.
“When Cuba is free”, she adds.
We say goodbye
I don’t know why, but something tells me that this time it’s forever.
See the orginal interview, in Spanish, here.