Sanctuary of El Cobre
It is assumed that religious centers serve as sanctuaries for the persecuted, that there exists some sort of respect for those who enter and exit through their doors. It is assumed that women should not be beaten, especially by a man. It is assumed that peaceful actions are not supposed to be confronted with violence. But, as is expected, the dictatorship of the Castro brothers in Cuba classifies such manners as insignificant, especially when it comes to to dissidents. As various media outlets have been reporting, this past Saturday July 17th sixteen Ladies in White, along with other activists, met at the Sanctuary of El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba- perhaps one of the most historic religious sites in Cuba, dedicated to the patron saint of the island, the Virgin of Charity. After attending mass, the dissidents decided to peacefully march, gladiolus at hand and dressed in white, in demand of all the things all the Ladies in White have been demanding for a long time- that dissidents be respected, that their relatives jailed for political motives be released, and freedom for Cuba. While these brave women found some minutes of peace inside the temple, what was waiting for them outside the doors was all the contrary.
According to declarations given to the blog “La Revolucion de los Gladiolos” (literally translated as ‘The Revolution of the Gladiolus’) by the Lady in White Tania Montoya, who was present at the protest, at the moment in which the 16 women stepped out of the church and began walking with their white flowers they were all “hit by paramilitary mobs organized and led by lieutenant colonel Elio of State Security from Santiago de Cuba”. Montoya goes on to say, in the same blog, that the officials first snatched the flowers from their hands. Afterwards came the physical blows and even the ripping of their clothes. “I am all scratched…”, explains Montoya, who along with the other women threw herself on the floor to impede them from taking them jailed. “They did not get tired of hitting us on the face…they pulled our hair, they dragged us, they threw rocks at us…but we remained united in silence, sitting on the floor, firm in our convictions of what we are demanding- freedom for the political prisoners, and freedom for all of Cuba”. Tania Montoya adds that the officials of the dictatorship also used umbrellas (and “anything else they could find”) to beat them. During this savage act, Tania managed to make an emergency phone call to the website “Hablalo Sin Miedo” to leave an urgent message. “We are being victims of a horrible mob attack. I am being hit right now”, she denounced.
Another one of the victims was Belkis Cantillo, the wife of the recently released dissident and member of the group of the 75, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia. Almost instantly as the beating took place, Ferrer began to publish messages of warning on his Twitter account. “Lady in White Belkis Cantillo has been wounded, others have been badly beaten, and two of them detained. Three men have been beaten and detained as well. All of them outside the Sanctuary of El Cobre”, read the message. The wound of Belkis Cantillo consisted of a deep cut on one of her arms produced by a scissor and carried out by one of her aggressors. Various reports, offered by Cantillo herself and others by Ferrer Garcia, denounced that the Lady in White bled “quite a lot” after being cut. Jose Daniel Ferrer also reported on “Hablalo Sin Miedo” that among the three beaten and detained men was Prudencio Villalon who was “left unconscious”. In addition, they confiscated his cell phone and camera. Another message published on Twitter by Ferrer detailed the state of another one of the Ladies in White who suffered the beatings: “Cuban dissident Aime Garces has a cervical injury and requires an orthopedic neck brace, all product of the physical blows”.
The name of the 16 female victims are: Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, Tania Montoya Vázquez, Aimé Garcés Leiva, Doraisa Correoso Pozo, Nelsa Fernández Fonseca, Eunise Madaula Fernández, Vivian Peña Hernández, Carmen del Pilar Alfonso Same, Yuvisleisy Olivares Maturel, Yusileisy Vázquez López, Juana Irene Parada Parada, Yanay Romero Parada, Annia Alegre Pécora, Adriana Núñez Pascual, María Elena Matos Creagh, and Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres.
The fact that the abusive G2 agents did all in their power to snatch any sort of camera or recording device from the hands of the protestors demonstrates that they deeply fear that this information and these images go around the world, as occurred with the images of the beatings of another group of Ladies in White in Havana during the beginning of 2010. The result of that low and violent act in Havana was a wave of international solidarity, accompanied by accusations against the Cuban regime, as well as marches in support of the beaten women. The recent beating in the East of Cuba was just as horrendous as the one from 2010. I strongly believe that the level of human solidarity should be the same. It’d be essential to be able to record these acts, although it’d be even more essential if they just cease altogether.
We were able to contact Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia via phone, though the dissident had very poor telephone signal, impeding a stable connection. However, Ferrer was able to assure that the only good thing about this bloody act was that it had given more strength to the women and that “they will march again this upcoming Sunday”. Let it be clear: these women, these dissidents, have never backed down.