Pedazos de la Isla

"Pieces of the Island"-An English Translation

Category Archives: Laura Labrada Pollan

Photos: Ladies in White at the Freedom Tower in Miami

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.

Visiting dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua also present in the audience

Laura Labrada greets audience with “L” for “Libertad” (Freedom)

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.

Belkis Cantillo. It’s her second trip outside of Cuba. When she returned the first time, she was brutally beat by the police in Santiago de Cuba.

All photos taken by Raul Garcia and Jennifer Hernandez from “Pedazos de la Isla”.  Feel free to share. 

 

Video of the Ladies in White in Havana, honoring Cuban mothers

Laura Labrada holds up a photo of her mother, Laura Pollan, founder and leader of the Ladies in White

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:

Brutality on behalf of the regime, bravery on behalf of the Ladies in White

A number of Ladies in White were violently attacked and arrested by agents of the Cuban dictatorship this Sunday, April 28th, as they tried to assist Mass to pray for the freedom of Cuba.

One of the women who suffered the worst beatings was Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, representative of the group for the province of Santiago de Cuba who recently returned to Cuba after traveling to Brussels to receive the Sajarov Award alongside Laura Labrada Pollan and Berta Soler.

Cantillo’s arrest took place when a group of these women were on their way to the Rosario Church of Palma Soriano. The activist told ‘Diario de Cuba’ that various men, agents of the political police, were the ones who carried out the beating against her, even punching and attacking the women with umbrellas. “They punched me in one of my breasts, they kicked my ribs”, Belkis told the digital newspaper.

Other detainees were Taimi Vega Biscet, Yaima Naranjo, Mariela Rodríguez, Niurka Carmona, Denia Fernández, Madelaine Santos, Yasnay Ferrer and Yanela Ferrer, according to ex prisoner and dissident José Daniel Ferrer García who published the information on his Twitter account (@jdanielferrer).

Another 30 women managed to make it inside the church, but the political police organized an act of repudiation which consisted in shouts of death threats, racial slurs and other offensive phrases, according to Aime Garces, one of the Ladies inside. She explained to this blog that despite the repression “the Ladies in White will continue firm and without fear”.

Jose Daniel Ferrer recounted that Father Palma displayed solidarity with the persecuted women. On the YouTube channel of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) videos of what happened in Palma Soriano have been published:

In the same channel there are also videos of interviews with some of the detained Ladies in White, here and here.

In other parts of the island, Ladies in White marched and assisted Mass, as was the case in the province of Matanzas and in Havana. Dissident leader and former political prisoner of conscience Angel Moya Acosta published various photos of these women marching in Havana on his Twitter account (@jangelmoya).

Moya recounts that 44 Ladies marched in the capital, demanding the release of Sonia Garro Alfonso (one of their members, jailed for more than a year) and her husband Ramon Alejandro Munoz. They were accompanied by more than 40 men, human rights activists.

Published by @jangelmoya

Meanwhile in Miami, the representative of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, participated in an emotional and very symbolic Mass at the Ermita Shrine, along with exiled Ladies in White and former political prisoners, as well as many members of Miami’s exile community. The Mass, hosted by Father Rumin, was dedicated to the fallen Laura Pollan and all martyrs of the Cuban dictatorship. There was a moment of prayer for the Ladies who were violently arrested that morning in Cuba, simply for trying to do what so many people were doing on that afternoon in Miami.

Soler was handed a Cuban flag with the image of the Virgin of Chartiy, while she presented a Cuban flag at the altar.

A moving surprise came when Cuban musician Amaury Gutierrez showed up to sing “Laura“, a song written by Luis Piloto and dedicated to Laura Pollan. In Cuba, the Ladies in White sing this song each Sunday after carrying out their Sunday marches.

Soler has been received with much affection by the Cuban exile, while she has been seeking more international support for the internal opposition.

Through an excessive amount of violence, the dictatorship has sent a clear message to Berta Soler and other activists who have traveled outside the country to let the world know about the Cuban reality, as was the case of the repression against Belkis Cantillo, just days after having returned from her trip abroad. However, the Ladies in White are also sending out a clear message to that same dictatorship: they do not fear them, they will continue out on the streets and they will not rest until Cuba is free.

Ladies in White march in solidarity with victims of violence

Dozens of members of the Ladies in White assisted Mass this Sunday, April 21st, despite numerous cordons set up by the political police.  The women prayed for the freedom of all political prisoners as they habitually do, and also in solidarity with victims of violence in Cuba, like the 40 hunger strikers of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), as well as the victims of a terrorist attack this past week in the US city of Boston.

Former political prisoner of conscience Angel Moya Acosta offered more details on his Twitter account (@jangelmoya).  “50 Ladies in White marched down 5th Avenue and dedicated their march to the hunger strikers in Santiago de Cuba, as well as the victims of the terrorist attack in Boston”.

More than 170 people were injured while 3 died in the Boston bombings.  Meanwhile, in Eastern Cuba, the repressive actions of the government have dramatically increased against the 40 hunger strikers, among them Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, as they demand the release of detained dissident Luis Enrique Lozada (also on hunger strike) and calling for an end to the brutality against human rights activists in the country.

The strikers, as well as numerous other dissidents who have joined them in demonstrations of solidarity, have been victims of acts of repudiation, death threats, house raids and arrests this week.

A total of 20 Ladies in White in the province of Matanzas managed to march with flowers in their hands, according to Sayli Navarro (@SayliNavarro), a young member of the group.

Navarro added that in Guantanamo 8 women marched and made it to Mass.  When the religious service came to an end, the Ladies carried out their monthly meeting in the headquarters of the group in that area.

Anyer Antonio Blanco, an activist of UNPACU, reported that 34 Ladies in White participated in Mass at Palma Soriano, where Father Palma (the local priest) dedicated the sermon to the women and prayed for their protection, as well as for the hunger strikers.

Blanco said that 16 women carried out their civic march in Santiago de Cuba, and as far as he confirmed, only 1 woman was arbitrarily arrested.

During night hours of that same Sunday, the renown Ladies in White Laura Pabrada, daughter of the fallen leader of the group Laura Pollan, and Belkis Cantillo, representative of the group in Santiago de Cuba and wife of Jose Daniel Ferrer, traveled to Brussels to meet up with Berta Soler, representative of the movement, to finally receive the Sajarov Award, given to them in 2005.  The Cuban dictatorship had denied Laura Pollan and other members of the group to travel outside of the country to pick up the award, but now the 3 mentioned women have been able to travel.

Soler has expressed that, in reality, these things don’t represent reforms, but instead attempts to distract international attention over the escalating level of repression against the internal opposition.  However, she has been internationally denouncing the constant human rights violations in Cuba during her time outside the country, emphasizing cases such as that of Sonia Garro, Lady in White imprisoned in Havana for more than 1 year along with her husband Ramon Alejandro Munoz.

 

Repression against Ladies in White increases, but they keep marching

Ladies in White in Havana, 4/7/13. Photo by @jangelmoya

Each Sunday various arrests of Ladies in White in different parts of Cuba are reported, but this 7th of April, the first Sunday of the month, a group of 60 women were detained by the political police in the province of Santiago de Cuba, simply for trying to make it to Mass. Regardless, members of the group managed to march in other provinces, defying police operations organized by the regime.

Under the direction of Laura Labrado Pollan (daughter of Laura Pollan) and Belkis Cantillo (visiting from Santiago), 54 Ladies in White marched down Havana’s 5th Avenue after participating in Mass at Santa Rita Church, where they prayed for the freedom of all political prisoners, emphasizing the case of Sonia Garro, who has just recently been transferred to a hospital due to a skin infection obtained in prison, according to her sister Yamilet Garro.

These activists from Havana were accompanied by more than 30 men, all of them public dissidents.

In Matanzas province a total of 17 women marched and participated in Mass. 3 made it in Ciego de Avila and 10 in Guantanamo.

Pro-freedom activists Iván Hernández Carrillo (@ivanlibre), Sayli Navarro (@SayliNavarro), Ángel Moya Acosta (@jangelmoya) and Anyer Antonio Blanco (@anyerantoniobla) reported and confirmed these numbers in their respective Twitter accounts.

Despite 60 arrests in Santiago   de Cuba, 4 women surpassed police cordons and made it to El Cobre National Shrine. In Holguin province, various Ladies were reportedly arrested.

It is common for these women from Santiago (many who hail from other Eastern regions) to leave their homes since Friday or Saturday to surpass police operations and arrive to mass at El Cobre Shrine. Many times they have to sleep at bus stations, cross and hide in fields or walk miles under rain and intense heat to escape police persecution. Some times, once near the temple they are refused vacancy by priests at the service of State Security.

On his Twitter account, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia (@jdanielferrer) explained this Sunday that “the Ladies in White of Santiago de Cuba, cross fields, hills, rivers and creeks to try and stay a night in the small hotel of El Cobre”.

The Ladies in White continue marching because they have already conquered a public space, all due to their 10 years of relentless perseverance. They will not allow any government soldier and/or official to take this space from them. The arrests may increase, but so too will the public demonstrations by these brave women.

Ladies in White in Havana, 4/7/13. Photo by @jangelmoya

Ladies in White in Havana, 4/7/13. Photo by: @jangelmoya

Ladies in White in Cardenas, Matanzas, 4/7/13. Photo by @SayliNavarro

Ladies in White movement turns 10 as they march throughout Cuba on Easter Sunday

Ladies in White march in Havana on March 31st 2013. Photo by @jangelmoya

Numerous Ladies in White defied police operations and marched throughout Cuba this Easter Sunday, March 31st, to mark the religious date and also to celebrate the 10th anniversary in which they were founded as a movement composed by the mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts and other relatives of the political prisoners rounded up and jailed during the Black Spring.  Various arrests of these women were reported at the hands of the political police this Sunday as well.

Laura Labrada, daughter of the fallen leader and founder of the group, Laura Pollan, kicked off the march in the capital, Havana, carrying a photo of her mother.  A total of 54 women were present in this march.  They were also able to assist Easter Mass at the Santa Rita Church according to former political prisoner of conscience Angel Moya Acosta on his Twitter account (@jangelmoya).  Moya added that more than 35 male dissidents accompanied the women.  

Sayli Navarro, a young member of the group and daughter of former political prisoner Felix Navarro, tweeted (@SayliNavarro) that a total of 20 Ladies in White marched and assisted Mass in the province of Matanzas.

Ladies in White outside of church in Cardenas, Matanzas. March 31st 2013. Photo by @SayliNavarro

Meanwhile, in the Eastern region of the country, the political police arrested a total of 24 women between Saturday and Sunday, according to Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).  Among the detainees was his 15 year old daughter, Martha Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo.

In the case of Martha Beatriz, she was detained twice“, explained Ferrer, “she was first detained when she head out from Palmarito de Cauto alongside 3 other Ladies in White to the El Cobre Shrine during morning hours.  She was forcefully returned to her home in Palmarito de Cauto and decided to once again head out to the Shrine.  She was detained again“.

The majority of the other detainees were from Santiago de Cuba, Mella and Contramaestre.

Regardless, a total of 43 Ladies in White marched to Mass in the Cobre National Shrine according to the dissident leader, “despite all the repressive actions against them“.

The Ladies in White have proven to be one of the most active and successful pro-freedom movements on the island during the past 10 years.  The majority of their members were not public activists when their relatives were arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to years in prison in 2003.  However, these women took to the streets just days after to demand the release of their loved ones.  From that moment on, the police unleashed a repressive wave against them, consisting of beatings, arrests, and in the majority of the cases, the expulsion of their work centers.

The  group has been internationally awarded and acknowledged and they have also been able to practice a significant amount of pressure against the regime, up to the point where their relatives have had to be freed as well as many other political prisoners.  Throughout the years, women throughout the country who are not related to any political prisoner but who support and compose the internal opposition began to march alongside the Ladies in White.  They became known as “The Ladies of Support“.  Eventually, the leaders of the group declared them all Ladies in White.

Laura Pollan, founder and leader of the movement, was taken to her untimely death by the Cuban regime, according to relatives and fellow members of the internal resistance.  Yet, Berta Soler has successfully assumed the role of leader of the group, which has only grown and strengthened in recent times.

The Ladies in White have become very active throughout the entire week“, highlighted Jose Daniel Ferrer, explaining that not only do these women march on Sundays, but also carry out social activities for impoverished citizens and underage children.

State violence has not been able to impede these women from gaining public space and the respect of everyday citizens throughout the country.

Regime Attacks Dissidents But Cannot Impede Tributes to Laura Pollan

Laura Pollan’s daughter Laura Labrada (left) and Berta Soler. October 14th, 2012.

This Sunday 14th of October, the year anniversary of the death of Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White, operations unleashed by the police forces of the Cuban regime produced numerous arrests throughout the island, but such actions were not able to impede the activities carried out in honor of Pollan.

A wide range of tributes were reported in the country since Berta Soler, representative of the Ladies in White, announced a week of activities last October 7th.

For example, that same day women carried out their traditional march along Havana’s 5th Avenue and screamed slogans like “Laura Pollan Lives“, while dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello managed to arrange a daily Mass throughout the week in the San Juan Bosco Church in Havana in memory of the fallen leader of the Ladies in White.  In the eastern town of Manzanillo, where Laura was born, various human rights activists met at the cemetery where part of her ashes remain and carried out a prayer vigil and deposited several white gladiolus flowers, the symbol of the peaceful struggle of the Ladies in White.

The actions continued all week in other regions: Holguin, Baracoa, Bayamo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Pinar del Rio, among others.

On Saturday the 13th, the Ladies in White held a meeting in their headquarters, situated in Pollan’s home on Neptuno Street, in Havana.  Many of these women were arrested or kept from leaving their homes so that they not arrive to the encounter, but 18 of them were able to carry out the activity.

Marta Díaz Rondon, a Lady in White from the Eastern municipality of Banes, in Holguin province, was one of the women who were present.  Diaz Rondon had to leave days before in order to arrive to the capital, where she managed to surpass numerous police cordons and arrive to the group’s headquarters.

Diaz says that the activity was carried out in an atmosphere of peace in the house, as the women “lit candles in front of pictures of Laura Pollan and deposited various flowers”.  Meanwhile, outside the atmosphere was not the same.  The regime organized mobs around the home which consisted of state police agents in civilian clothing and various pre-university students and even dancers who tried to make the act of repudiation seem like a simple “celebration” before the eyes of the international media.

Not only did the mobs blast pro-government music, but their members also shouted insults and obscene words at the women.  The Ladies in White simply responded by singing the national anthem and shouting such slogans like “Laura Pollan Lives” and “Free Cuba“.

Nearby streets were closed off by the police and all traffic was re-routed to keep any other activists from arriving to the encounter.

On the following day- Sunday the 14th- a number of women throughout the country were reported as detained.

In the case of Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, the renown dissident recounted that her home was surrounded by political police agents since 1 AM to keep her from leaving her house and joining the peaceful march to the Santa Rita Catholic Church.  Neighbors told her that uniformed officials were keeping a tight vigilance over all the corners of the Rio Verde neighborhood of Boyeros, Havana, where her home is located.


In addition, the agents had the objective of keeping any other dissident from arriving to my house to pay our own tribute to that grand leader that was Laura Pollan Toledo“, said Fonseca.

Meanwhile, the State Security agents Sanper and Alejandro ‘visited’ the headquarter of the group and threatened the women, telling Berta Soler that the Ladies in White could not march.  However, Soler and Laura Labrada Pollan (Laura’s daughter) told the agents that they would not accept their instructions and they went out anyway and carried out their march with 48 women.  They were accompanied also by other figures of the opposition like Hector Maceda (former prisoner and husband of Pollan), Ofelia Acevedo (widow of Oswaldo Paya), Antonio Rodiles, Hugo Damian Prieto and former political prisoners Ivan Hernandez Carrillo and Arnaldo Ramos.

Hernandez Carrillo was reporting from the scene of the activities through his Twitter account: @ivanlibre.

A group of women from Santiago de Cuba managed to surpass numerous police cordons and arrive to the Santa Rita church, joining the group of more than 40 women who had already arrived.  Meanwhile, back in Santiago, another 30 women made it to the El Cobre Shrine.

In the central city of Santa Clara, 6 women from the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights were violently arrested when they were showing solidarity with the Ladies in White by trying to assist Mass in La Pastora Church.  The detainees were Idania Yánez Conteras, Damaris Moya Portieles, Yaite Cruz Sosa, Ana Rosa Alfonso, Xiomara Martin Jiménez and Yanisbel Valido Pérez.

Idania Yanez explains that the women were dressed in white- as a form of solidarity, as these women always wear black during their protests- and that they were dragged off the bus they were aboard while they were “beaten“.

State Security official Yunier Monteagudo Reina and other agents intercepted the bus we were traveling and started to physically assault us“, detailed Yanez, “Yunier hit Damaris Moya in the face and broke her lips… they dragged us throughout the floor, they shoved us and then they detained us and took us to the local police unit“.

The activists from the Rosa Parks Movement started to shout slogans against the government and others in honor of Laura Pollan while they were being assaulted.

Yanez said that at no point did the everyday people demonstrate hate towards them.  Instead, they looked at the events in horror and demonstrated their solidarity with the protestors.

Other activists were arrested as was the case of  Angel Moya Acosta and Raul Borges, among many others, but the internal opposition achieved their objective:  honoring Laura Pollan, that Lady who made the Cuban regime tremble with just a flower, demanding peace, freedom and justice.

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