Marta Díaz Rondon y Caridad Caballero Batista
Despite the fact that various headlines have attempted to distract international attention from what is occurring in Cuba, this Sunday August 28th was the 6th consecutive Sunday in which dozens of dissidents- mainly women- have been violently attacked by the regime’s forces. And, each passing day, the methods of repression are more ‘sophisticated’.
This time, the acts of hate began on Saturday when dissidents attempted to get to Palma Soriano in order to assist mass at the Cathedral of Santiago and to march with the Ladies in White on Sunday. Early that morning at around 8 am Caridad Caballero Batista and Marta Diaz Rondon were aboard a car on their way to Palma Soriano, arriving at Bayamo. Upon arriving to this city, the women noticed that there were already motorcycles and police cars belonging to State Security and the Revolutionary Police stationed around the area. It was at that moment that the agents forced the vehicle to pull over. Around 15 uniformed officers walked towards the car.
“After forcing the car to abruptly pull over“, narrates Diaz Rondon, “they dragged us out all the way into a police car. They put me in one and Caridad in another“. Inside the car both women were beat and insulted. Caridad Caballero points out that she suffered various violent blows, including a punch which broke her lips. “The person who hit me in the mouth was a man, a very tall and corpulent police officer. After hitting me in the mouth he told me he was going to break my neck“, she explains. The dissident was also choked and suffered a fracture in a finger of her hand.
They were then taken to a police center in Bayamo where they were “once again dragged throughout the floor into an office” just to be threatened and interrogated. “They were also performing locks on our necks“, explains Marta Diaz Rondon, in reference to a martial arts technique in which the attackers wrap their arms around the victims neck in a choke hold. While applying those same “locks” they dragged the women various times up and down steps to be taken into different offices, all the while suffering injuries in their backs, legs, arms, and necks.
After being held in that detainment center for a few hours, the functionaries decided that they would have to check them to see if they carried any important objects with them. The objects commonly snatched were cameras, voice recorders, pens, cell phones, or laptops. Although the women had none of this, the men ordered the other women functionaries to take off the clothes of Diaz and Caballero. “They wanted to strip us naked in front of the men while they screamed some very ugly words to us, words so ugly that I am ashamed of repeating“, explains Rondon. Caballero adds, “The men were making some sexual gestures with their fingers as they told the women to lower our pants. They were telling us that they were going to do things to us with their fingers, they were grabbing their testicles, and they used very strong and ugly words“.
Caballero Batista and Diaz Rondon were then taken to an instructions center in Holguin where they were kept in a dungeon which Rondon classified as “inhumane”. “It was a cell where all the windows were completely covered by concrete, it was very dark, we couldn’t tell if it was time or nighttime outside and it smelt very strong of urine“, she recounts. In Holguin, the women were handed a warning letter which stated that they had committed acts of public disorder. “But we didn’t cause disorder,” declares Diaz Rondon, “the disorder was on behalf of those who beat and mistreated us. We are just peaceful women armed with our white flowers and our words, demanding freedom for all Cuban political prisoners“.
They were kept in that detention center until the morning of Sunday, August 28th, 24 hours later.
Anti-riot squads, tear gas, violent arrests
Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia
Meanwhile, Palma Soriano was once again the scene of escalated violence against the Ladies in White, other dissidents, and neighbors who had joined in solidarity, the same way it has been for the past Sundays of July and August. 13 Ladies in White tried leaving from the home of Aimee Garces Leyva in order to assist mass but were quickly and violently impeded by government forces. They then received a beating and were also thrown aboard an bus. Among those 13 women were Tania Montoya, Belkis Cantillo, Aimee Garces, and Berta Soler who traveled from Matanzas in order to support her Eastern sisters. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who has been reporting all this news from his Twitter account, warned that it was possible that that Tania Montoya had “suffered a fractured arm” after such a brutal beating.
Ferrer Garcia also condemned that soldiers used tear gas against the home of Marino Antomarchi where 26 dissidents were meeting. Also inside was the family of the house which includes a small 2 year old. “They were asphyxiating the people inside. They had to taken the small girl out by the back window. They then arrested one of the dissidents while the other 25 remained inside and while the government kept launching tear gas at them“. Ferrer, as well as Luis Felipe Rojas, then sent out urgent Twitter messages reporting that anti-riot troops, armed with shields and weapons, had entered the town and invaded the home of Antomarchi, violently arresting men and women. On the morning of Monday August 29th Luis Felipe sent out another tweet condemning “dozens of arrests, raids, and injured activists was the outcome of the dark spectacle carried out by anti-raid troops in Palma Soriano“.
Various homes in that same area were surrounded by police forces including that of Raudel Avila and Tania Montoya, and that of Maximiliano Sanchez in Palmarito de Cauto. Ferrer Garcia also denounced that police officials that were surrounding homes were heavily armed “even with clubs“.
Solidarity among neighbors was not absent, either. “A young man from the neighborhood, already bothered by so many abuses“, narrates the former political prisoner of conscience, “ran out of his house and screamed ‘down with Fidel’ and was quickly beaten and arrested“. This act has been yet another display of nonconformity in the midst of so much unmeasurable violence, another sign of solidarity with the Cuban resistance. Sunday after Sunday, violence against dissidents has been increasing and each time non-dissident neighbors intercede to defend the oppressed and in turn, in the majority of times they are beaten and detained as well. Every time more people join in, whether it be in Eastern Cuba or in other provinces, as was witnessed in the protest in the Cuatro Caminos Market of Havana, organized by Ivonne Mallesa Galano and Rosario Morales Darrosa, and where more than 300 everyday Cubans joined in.
Physical blows, shoves, stonings, arrests, threats, torture with German Shepherds, launching tear gas, and the use of anti-riot troops form part of the repressive machinery which the Cuban dictatorship has been applying against the non-violent resistance. “The situation continues to be very tense“, states Ferrer Garcia, “and it will continue that way because our people have maintained their firm attitude and have decided to continue protesting peacefully against the violence applied by the police police of the Castro brother dictatorship“.
Marta Diaz Rondon declares, “they think that by hitting us we are going to grow fearful, but it will not happen. We are going to continue taking to the streets and protesting until there is freedom in Cuba and until there is not a single political prisoner“. She went on to state that dissidents are not afraid, “rather the oppressors are the ones that are afraid because they know that the day when more people join the opposition and that Cuba will be free is very near“. Caridad Caballero reiterated that same persistence and faith in victory, “They do not want us to keep on but we are not going to stop, we will continue. They’ll have to kill us, but we’re not stopping“.
Despite the immense bravery of these dissidents and so many others that suffer such violence, not just every Sunday but every single day, and not only in Eastern Cuba but in all of the island, the level of repression practiced by the regime is alarming. Each time they apply new, more dangerous, methods like the use of tear gas and anti-riot squads. During these days, the memory of dignified Cubans who gave their lives in hope to achieve freedom- Cubans like Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Pedro Luis Boitel- are more present than ever. Cuba does not need more martyrs, but if it has to be that way there are dissidents that are willing to hold that torch high. But it is the duty of us Cubans living outside to prevent another fatal outcome. Along with the international media, we cannot ignore what is occurring inside of the island.