Pedazos de la Isla

"Pieces of the Island"-An English Translation

Category Archives: Naida Leon

Once Again, Ladies in White & Other Dissidents Impeded from Going to Church

Caridad Caballero Batista

On Sunday January 16th numerous arrests of Ladies in White and other dissidents occurred in the Eastern region of Cuba- particularly Holguin- as human rights activists were once again impeded from assisting their local churches.  The dissidents had plans to demand the freedom of Ivonne Malleza, Ignacio Martinez and Isabel Haydee Alvarez, as well as to pray for the health and spirit of hunger-striking political prisoner Wilman Mendoza, whom is currently in critical condition in the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital of Santiago de Cuba.  According to the independent journalist and Lady in White Caridad Caballero Batista, the arrests began on Saturday morning with the violent arrests of Marta Diaz Rondon, Gertrudis Ojeda, and Miladis Rosa, as these three Ladies in White traveled from their native town of Banes towards the city of Holguin where they had planned to participate in Sunday mass.

Caballero Batista recounts that in Cacocum, Holguin, dissidents Franklin Peregrino del Toro and his wife Berta Guerrero were also detained.  Meanwhile, in the city of Holguin Batista was arrested alongside her husband Esteban Sande Suarez and Isabel Pena Torres (Lady in White).  All of these arrests occurred at around 8 am.

The arrest was very violent“, recalls Caridad, “We received physical blows on our arms, on our heads…we were kicked in our legs and all over our bodies“.

After the beating, Caballero, her husband Esteban, and dissident Isabel Pena were taken to the Instructional Unit of Pedernales, located in the outskirts of Holguin.  Upon arriving at the Unit (notorious for its deplorable cells and harsh treatment against inmates) a guard physically attacked Caridad Caballero.  “The guard punched me on the mouth because he wanted me to remain silent and not demand my rights“, explained the activist who did not cease protesting the aarbitrariness.

After being beaten, Caballero was pushed into a cell where there were two other women who were trying to pass as inmates.  But the reality of these women was another.  “Those women were not prisoners, they were placed their intentionally to harass me“, denounced Batista, who noticed that both these women had participated in violent acts against her and other dissidents in the town of Banes, when Reina Luisa Tamayo- mother of fallen political prisoner Orlando Zapata- still lived there.  The false inmates tried to intimidate Caridad but the dissident remained true to her anti-dictatorship posture.

While Batista, Sande, and Torres remained detained, various other dissidents, including Zuleidy Pérez González (Lady in White), Juan Cordero Perdomo, Enrique Núñez and Luis Jaime Merino head out to the State Security Unit to demand freedom for the three tireless activists.  These activists who had demonstrated such a sign of solidarity were also arrested by force and taken to Pedernales.  Batista added that “in Cacocum, in addition to Franklin Peregrino and his wife, also detained was Rosaida Gonzalez Escalona at aroudn 1 pm.  She was taken to the unit in the midst of constant physical aggressions“.

Caridad, Esteban and Isabel were released at around 1 in the afternoon.  Though numerous Ladies in White and other activists could not assist mass due to the violent operations against them, Caballero Batista nevertheless points out that she feels “joyful, because other women could end up going to church in Holguin afterall“, referring to a group of Ladies in White which managed to surpass the chord of vigilance set up around the area.  These women were able to assist mass during the morning at Jesus Christ the Redeemer of Humans, located in Holguin in the Pueblo Nueva neighborhood on 5th Street.  “Knowing that there are even a few of us in mass makes us much stronger“, adds Batista.   Among the Ladies in White who were able to assist mass on that morning in Holguin were Grisel Piña González, Ana María Aguilera Paneque, Noemi Hidalgo Gómez y Naida León.

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During that same Sunday, another set of violent arrests of 19 Ladies in White occurred in Santiago de Cuba as the female activists left mass in El Cobre Sanctuary and marched towards the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital to morally support Mariza Pelegrino, wife of the very critical Wilman Mendoza.  Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia explained to ‘Hablalo sin Miedo‘ that the arrests were brutal.   

Testimonies of repression and Resistance (January 8th, Pt. 1)

Since the beginning of 2012, every day in Cuba has been marked by acts of Resistance on behalf of Cuban dissidents and an aggressive wave of violence on behalf of the dictatorship.  Sunday, January 8th, was no exception.  Dissidents throughout the island suffered arrests and beatings for the simple act of trying to assist religious mass at Church, to pray for political prisoners and other oppressed Cubans.

Here are just some of the testimonies of that day. (Part 1):

Caridad Caballero Batista and Esteban Sande Suárez: “We are Going to Continue Going to Church”

(Left to Right) Esteban Sande Suarez, Caridad Caballero Batista, Marta Diaz Rondon, Eric Sande Suarez (son of Batista and Sande)

The Lady in White from Holguin Caridad Caballero Batista and her husband Esteban Sande Suarez, were both violently arrested by Cuban political police agents on Sunday January 8th at around 8:45 AM as they tried to assist mass in the Catholic Church of Barrio Pueblo Nuevo.

At the time of the arrest“, recounts Caballero, “they pushed us, dragged us, and in my case they broke my lip as they punched me“.  Esteban Sande also suffered the same kind of beating, as well as constant threats.  The dissident couple was then detained in the Instructional Unit of Pedernales, located on the outskirts of Holguin.

We were detained in Pedernales until 12 in the afternoon and there they told us that we were not allowed to go to Church“, denounced Caridad, who is also an activist from the Eastern Democratic Alliance, “but we are going to continue going to church, for it is the house of God and we have to go“.

When Caballero and Sande were released, they decided to head right back to the Pedernales Unit and they remained outside in protest, demanding the immediate release of another activist which had been arrested during that same morning- Denis Pino Basulto.

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Denis Pino Basulto: “If I am assassinated, it is the fault of the oppressors of the regime

Denis Pino shows his scars, after the brutal beating of 01/08. Photo by Luis Felipe Rojas

The young dissident, Denis Pino Basulto, who is also a member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, suffered an arbitrary arrest during the same morning of January 8th as he stepped outside of his house to buy food (specifically, bread) for his family.  After completing the chore, he had plans to assist mass along with other dissidents in the area.

I was on my bicycle when, out of nowhere, various political police and State Security officials ran up to me and told me that I was detained”, explained the young activist. “I started to scream ‘Down with the dictatorship’ and ‘Down with the repression’ and it was then that they grabbed me by the feet and by the arms and tossed me into a police vehicle”. 

Pino Basulto was carrying a plastic bag with him to put the bread he had set out to get, and the agents snatched this bag from him and put it over his head, in an attempt to asphyxiate him.  “One agent also put his hand over my mouth…he started to punch me on the stomach and on the ribs.  Another official put a headlock on me and pushed his elbow down against my neck“.  During this entire time, the drivers of the vehicle were telling Denis that they were going to kill him.

The agents kicked the dissident out of the vehicle, handcuffed, and took him into the Third Unit located in Lenin, where they continued beating and threatening him.  Half an hour later, he was once again thrown into a vehicle and taken to Pedernales, where Caridad Caballero and Esteban Sande were already being held.  Upon arriving at the center, Denis was kept in an office, which had a red carpet and a security camera which kept a close watch on each and every move the dissident made, for 40 minutes.  The authorities told him that they wanted to confiscate his shoes.  “I told them that I would not let them take my shoes, which are the only pair I own“, affirmed Denis, who was then taken to a cell for common prisoners.  “There, I kept shouting slogans- ‘Down with Fidel’, ‘Down with Raul’, and ‘Down with Hunger‘”.  Various common prisoners- charged for violent crimes- began to threaten Pino under orders of the guards.

Various Majors of the Political Police took turns beating Basulto, even shoving him against the cell bars.  “The Major of Counter-Intelligence for Holguin grabbed me by the neck and pushed me against the wall, threatening me with death once again“.

The dissident confirmed that he could hear the screams of Caridad Caballero coming from somewhere inside the unit.  She was demanding that the authorities release him and that they cease beating him.  “They kept threatening me with death…and I want to say, if I am assassinated it is the fault of the oppressors of the regime“, declared Basulto.

Denis was officially released at around 2 in the afternoon when they put him in a police vehicle and drove him out towards Holguin.  The pro-freedom activist explained that he was able to see Caridad Caballero and Esteban Sande through the window of the car.  They were driving him away on purpose, so he would not join the dissidents in protest (regardless, upon being released he walked back to the home of Caballero).  “Before leaving me in a random part of Holguin, the officials told me to please not scream anymore slogans like ‘Down with Fidel and Raul’ and ‘Down with the dictatorship‘”, he recounts.  But when he was kicked out of the car, Denis started to shout more pro-freedom slogans.

Denis Pino Basulto spent the night with very severe pains in his head, dizziness, and desires to vomit.  In fact, he added that it was even very difficult for him to eat, because his mouth hurt very much because of all the physical blows he received.  “Despite the fact that they constantly oppress us, this struggle is non-violent and we have to continue demanding the regime to cease their abuses.  The same way they killed Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia they are capable of killing any other person in the future“.

The young dissident was expelled from his job a few months ago because of his dissident posture against the Cuban dictatorship.  Since then, he has not been allowed to have any sort of employment.  “Dissidents are not given jobs because the dictatorship does not tolerate any form of disagreement… and since I will never support this dictatorship, then I will remain without a job“.

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Naida León: “I’d rather be dead than sell out”

When the young wife of Denis Pino, Naida Leon, saw that her husband was taking very long to come back home, she decided to take her young daughter by the hand and walked outside her home to look for some answers.  What she found was a concentration of State Security officials in the corner of her block, which ran up to the mother and daughter and physically attacked both.

Three women grabbed me by my hands and arms, as well as my daughter“, explained the concerned mother, “they told me I had to go with them because I had just been detained“.  Leon was introduced into a police vehicle, where agents began to hurl countless verbal insults at her.  Naida’s daughter was very frightened, amid constant threats against her mother.  An official by the name of Yoandris (responsible also for the beatings of Caridad Caballero and Denis Pino) was the one who gave the order to take her back home, adding that she was not allowed to step out.

Once home, a State Security official ‘visited’ her in an attempt to make her  give in.  “The official began to ask me why I dissented with the regime, that he could easily get me the necessary papers to leave the country.  I told him that I did not want to leave the country“, affirmed Leon.

I responded also with examples of countless friends who have suffered so much under the dictatorship“, mentioning cases of evictions, beatings, and arrests.  The agent then looked at her and told her to abandon her anti-government posture and to collaborate with the communist regime.  Naida simply responded, “I would rather be dead than sell out and work for you…you are all a bunch of assassins“.

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The dissident blogger Luis Felipe Rojas, who visited these dissidents after they were beaten, published an entry on his blog detailing the events of the 7th and 8th of January: “January 8 in Cuba: Jubilee and Repression”

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