Physical blows, shoving, threats, deportations, and arrests against those who oppose a vile system of government. That is how a dictator’s birthday is celebrated, specifically that of the olive green Cuban dictator who turned 85 this past weekend. He has spent 52 years out of those 85 pushing the trigger, handing out life sentences, and censoring conscience. It was done yesterday and continues to happen today. No one is safe from the brutality, not even a group of peaceful women who only wish to travel to a church and stand before an altar to pray to God so that men who are in prison for thinking differently be released and so that freedom may arrive for an enslaved country. Another day, another story. Another Sunday, another report of horror.
Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba
It was the early morning of August 14th when Caridad Caballero Batista awoke in Holguin, ready to travel a few miles to the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. Three other Ladies in White were with her- Maritsy Columbie Lopez, Isabel Pena Torres, and Berta Guerrero Segura. The Ladies then met up with other sisters-in-cause like Belkis Cantillo, Aimee Garces, among other names. In total, they were a group of 10 Ladies in White. The purpose of their excursion was to assist mass together to pray for political prisoners and for the entire Cuban country, the same way they have tried to do during the past 4 Sundays.
“When we were already in Palma Soriano“, explains Caballero, “we boarded a truck which had four rows of seats“. All the women decided to sit in the center section of the truck, which was en route to the town of El Cristo. Upon arriving to the security checkpoint of that town, the dissidents noticed that there was already a heavy militarized presence. “We noticed right away that the whole area was surrounded by police officials, agents of State Security, and members of the Rapid Response Brigade“.
As if their was a terrorist or some other sort of criminal on the vehicle, the officials ordered that they pull over. “They ordered everyone on board to get off, including the non-dissidents. Many of these people complained and demanded that they explain why this was happening“, recounts Caballero. The Ladies in White and Ladies of Support decided to resist and remained seated. According to Caridad, as consequence the officials demanded that they too get off the truck, for the entire operation was aimed at them. The response of these brave women was to demand that the soldiers explain to the people who they were and why they were threatening and arresting them.
“We demanded that they explain to all those present that we were Ladies in White, human rights defenders, and that we were trying to get to the Cathedral to pray for the liberation of all the political prisoners as well as to pray for all of Cuba, including them, and so that human rights be respected in Cuba”, declared Caballero Batista.
Upon noticing the strong and unbreakable conviction of these women, the agents knew that they were not going to even move a foot. It was at that moment that they applied violence against them. “They started to pull us out of the vehicle by force, pushing and shoving us”, explains Batista, who suffered a similar repressive act just a week ago together with other activists, many of who were also present this time as well. “They ended up shoving us out, some women of our group fell, hurting themselves even more. Isabel Pena Torres suffered a fracture in her ankle and on the pinky finger of her left foot. We all received blows, we have bruises, our hair was pulled, and more”.
Caridad Caballero Batista
In addition to this report of abuses and lack of respect, we must also add the testimony about Berta Guerrero, also a Lady in White, being choked by agents of the repressive forces. As for Caridad Caballero, she tells that “they ripped off everything I had on my hair. I was hit and have bruises on my legs because they dragged me throughout the truck. All the while a very large agent was punching me, and they even threw my purse off the top floor of the truck”. After these actions which are representative of the Cuban dictatorship, all the women were deported back to their home provinces, in the case of Caridad back to Holguin.
“Maritsy Columbie, the Lady in White from Guantanamo, was taken alone in a police vehicle”, details Caballero, “They couldn’t conform themselves with just deporting her so they left her in a town called Rio Frio after snatching away her shoes. She had to walk barefoot throughout the whole village until she made it back home, which was far from there”.
More tactics of repression: Arrests, using Dogs as Torture, Threat
Once again, the former political prisoner from the group of the 75, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia used his limited Twitter messages to report all the happenings. “Political police and repressive Rapid Response Brigades are stationed in Santiago, Palma Soriano, and Palmarito de Cauto ready to repress activities held by the opposition“, read one of his first Tweets of the day, after he condemned the aggressive beatings carried out against Caridad Caballero, his wife Belkis Cantillo, and many other women.
A few minutes later, Ferrer also denounced that various homes were being victim of violent mob repudiation attacks, among them the house of Rene Hierrezuelo in the town of El Caney (where various dissidents were holding a meeting) as well as that of Marino Antomarchy in Palma Soriano.
The former prisoner of conscience also alerted about the arrests of three other Ladies in White- Maria Elena Matos, Annia Alegre Pécora, and Adriana Núñez Pascua- who they tried to scare and intimidate by using dogs. “Maria Elena, Annia, and Adriana, who were all detained in the political police unit were threatened with German Shepherds the entire time”, read his Twitter message. The tactic of using dogs for torture was also used by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
As product of the beatings unleashed against Adriana Núñez Pascual, she had to be urgently rushed to the hospital to tend to her wounds. Also, Luis Felipe Rojas sent out a Twitter message in which he explained that the Lady in White/Support, Anie Sarrion, was also savagely beaten in the town of Moa by members of the Rapid Response Brigade, suffering a cranial trauma. On the following day, August 15th, Eastern Democratic Alliance activists Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina and Julian Mones were detained while they were attempting to travel to visit their injured compatriot.
In regards to the violence against the Ladies in White, Jose Daniel Ferrer added that “not only do the Ladies suffer beatings, but their clothes are also ripped, in many cases they have left them with their breasts out in the air“. Caridad Caballero assured that despite the numerous methods of torture, they will not cease their activities each Sunday, or any day for that matter. “They may kills us out there in the streets, but we are not going to stop“, she affirmed.