Nearly every time I have heard the voice of Caridad Caballero Batista she is telling me about a beating, an arrest, or some other sort of attack against her. This time, she spent 4 days in the dungeons of the Cuban regime for the same reason as always: protesting, along with other dissidents, in a completely peaceful manner along the streets which belong to an entire country, but which only a few olive green rulers selfishly proclaim as their own. I have lost count how many times this brave dissident has been detained only in 2011. I ask her. To my surprise, her response is decorated with laughter. “I have also lost count. Imagine, during this month of May alone it has been three times“.
And that third time, which has just occurred, really alarmed all Cuban dissidents in the island and all other companions-in-solidarity around the world. And this was because Caridad Caballero Batista was missing for 4 days, as was her husband Esteban Sander, as of Thursday May 26th. But her situation had begun before that Thursday.
“On the morning of the 24th I awoke to see that my house was surrounded by the police. We went out to the street and a State Security official told Esteban and I that we were not allowed to step outside our house“, recalls Caballero. That was the day before the culmination of the Boitel-Zapata Live On Protests and a repressive wave was spreading itself throughout the entire island. Upon receiving the absurd (and common) warning, the dissident replied to the official, “show us an arrest warrant or a house arrest warrant because we are not prisoners and we are also not going to allow our house to become a prison or a police barracks to hold people hostage“. When she confirmed that there was no justifiable response to her demand, Caridad decided to continue and take to the street. Quickly, the violence began. “A woman (agent) grabbed by the arm and twisted it. I told them to let me go, and they did only because one of the officials said that there was police car on its way. And when that car arrived it violently parked itself, passing over one of my husbands feet with its tire”. And it was like this that they shoved the couple into the police car which took them to the police unit of Pedernales, where they were kept until the following day, May 25th, until afternoon hours. “While there we kept the same posture as usual- protesting all the violations and also demanding respect for the rights of those who were already imprisoned“, tells Caballero.
After this “liberation” the repressive had only begun. “We found out that there was a group of dissidents in Santa Clara who had been detained and that Yris (Tamara Perez) had been beaten, as was Antunez, Idania, and others. We were informed that there was a group which was going to take to the street to inquire about and demand freedom for those who were detained. We also formed a group here and the same was done in Banes. Then we started walking down El Miradero Street which is a centric spot,” the Eastern dissident explains. And it was precisely there, in that centric spot, where the group of dissidents, made up by Fidel Garcia, Mari Avila Esposito, Juan Carlos Dominguez, Pedro Leiva, and Caridad Caballero, were all impeded by State Security agents. All those who were present were arrested after the police stopped traffic to carry out such actions. As this occurred in broad daylight before the eyes of an entire town, Caridad notes that, “At the moment of the arrest there was a local young man who saw everything and said ‘this is a dictatorship, you assassins! Let them go!’ That young man was also arrested. There were many people around and they all stared with horrified faces because all we were doing was walking peacefully“. And what was the crime these dissidents had committed? That they were simply walking toward the State Security unit in a civic manner in order to demand freedom for all the jailed dissidents of Santa Clara.
Once again, after being arrested the activists were taken to Pedernales. Upon receiving this news Esteban Sander headed another group along with Jonas Rodriguez Avila and Juan Torres. This group had the same purpose the previous one had- to demand that the supposed state “security” release the arrested dissidents. What occurred was just more of the same. Esteban and his colleagues were quickly detained and sent to Pedernales.
In her case, Caridad Caballero recalls, “When we arrived to Pedernales they put each of us in different cells. In my case they put me in a small cell which was very hot and had a camera. I was kept there from the moment of my arrest at 3:45 in the afternoon until 9:50 at night when, without an interrogation, they took me out of the cell and shoved me aboard another police car. Right before I was put in the car I started shouting ‘Down with the dictatorship!’ and all the prisoners in the other cells heard me“. Caridad noticed that she was familiar with the road they were driving her down. They were taking her to the small town of San German. It was then that she realized she still had her cellphone with her so she thought, “When I heard the horrors the agents were saying I thought I had to tell someone“. She tried to call various dissidents but each attempt failed so she decided to call her son “in case something happened to me then they would at least know where my body was“, Caballero said once again with a hint of a laugh. Her bravery never ceases to impress me.
“When we arrived to San German the MININT delegate was there. He stepped out of his car to call on more police officers. After I had used my cell the agents in the car snatched it from me and told me I was not allowed to make further calls. Everyone at the unit tried to blackmail me, they wanted to take off my pants to search me but I held tight to the waist of my pants and told them that to do so they would have to kill me first. And in the end, they were not able to search me.” They moved her to a small cell and she remained there until May 29th. “During the entire time in the dungeons we refused to eat, to shower, to drink anything, or to do anything at all really“, assured Caridad.
During her stay in the cell she slept on the floor and she stayed like that until she was freed. Meanwhile, a State Security official known as Duglas Torres Pupo, who was the same one that gave the orders for all the beatings and arrests, went to the house of Caballero Batista where her young son was alone. “He told my son that we were detained and that would remina that way for 72 hours. My son did not want to hear this and responded by saying ‘you are all a bunch of abusers and assassins“.
And the henchmen really did keep Caridad for 72 hours with the purpose of cracking her resistance and of making her give in. “We were all threatened with death. In fact, one of the agents which accompanied Duglas to my house said ‘the only thing we need is that they give us the order so we can just execute all of them“, said Cari, once again with a brief laughter, concluding with the phrase she, and her Eastern compatriot Marta Daiz Rondon, often say, “We will have none of that. We are not afraid“.
Each passing day I am more inspired by Cuban dissidents, especially when its women like Caridad Caballero Batista which could care less if they threaten her with death or with life in prison. For her, there is only one way. “Forward“, she tells me.
(Left to right: Esteban Sander, Caridad Caballero Batista, Marta Díaz Rondon, and the son of Caridad and Esteban)