Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo is the kind of person who does not need an introduction. The distinguished dissident leader is frequently on the news when it comes to the Cuban resistance- whether it be carrying out a street protest or suffering a brutal beating.
One of her most recent protests took her, and 3 other women, to the steps of Havana’s Capitol building, where they demanded “freedom”, “rights”, and “food” for the Cuban people, attracting everyday citizens who joined in solidarity.
The following interview was done on September 7th, a day marked by repression and vigilance in Cuba. Towards the end of the interview, the telephone line with which we were communicating with Sara Marta was blocked by forces of the Cuban regime, keeping us from completely finishing the interview. Minutes later, it was reported that State Security and other police officials had surrounded the home of Sara Marta Fonseca, proving that the dictatorship feels a deep fear before a woman and her family, willing to give it all for the freedom of an entire country.
Sara Marta spoke to us about the most recent acts of repression she has suffered, the obstacles faced by dissidents on the island (especially women), her family, her story, and she shares the hope she feels, despite all the violence, of seeing a free Cuba very soon:
First of all, this past weekend (September 4th) you were victim of violence and an arrest. Please explain a bit about what occurred on that day.
A group of us dissidents, mainly women, had planned to support the Ladies in White in Colon, Matanzas. We were going to assist mass in the Catholic Church located right off the central Colon highway, and afterward we were going to march. My husband, Julio Ignacio, and I traveled to Colon on Saturday. On Sunday, at around 9 am, we left the house of Caridad Gomez, a member of the Ladies in White Support Group who had offered us a resting place, along with Maria Teresa Castellano and 4 other dissidents.
Upon leaving the house of Caridad, the 7 of us (3 women and 4 men) were intercepted by State Security agents, whom circled us with their cars and violently got off and charged at us, first attacking the men and then the women. The arrest was very violent. In my case, I received a lot of physical blows. They broke the “democracy” and “change” wristbands I was wearing because they were pulling them from me. That was done by a young State Security agent who was extremely violent with me and who hit me a lot. They then threw me into a bus (by myself; the others were taken away in police vehicles). Once inside the bus I noticed that there were only officials from the Ministry of the Interior and of State Security. It was then that they used their hands to push down on my mouth and nose, nearly asphyxiating me. They also pushed my head against the floor.
In the area of El Matadero in Colon, they stopped the bus and in order to move me to a police vehicle under orders of taking me back to Havana. Before doing so and while still on the bus, they pushed me around and hit me a few times. I told them to stop pushing me, that I could get off of the bus myself. At that moment a uniformed National Police official ran up the stairs and told me that “things would be as I wanted them to be” and she began to physically attack me. To this, I responded by saying that things would now be “as I wished for them to be” and I grabbed on to some metal tubes located near the bus door as they tried to throw me out. They applied a headlock on me, exerting lots of pressure down on my neck, which is why I am currently having issues with my vocal chords, and why I have areas of my tongue and mouth that are broken, swollen arms and neck, and head pains. Not to mention, my breasts also have marks of physical blows.
Once inside the police vehicle, I noticed that there were other police officials in addition to the female one who had just beaten me up. When the car got on the highway, a few other vehicles which had been keeping a watch on me (as if demanding freedom and democracy is a criminal activity) sped up and ordered our vehicle to pull over. A Major abruptly opened the door and cynically told me “Happy Birthday on your day”. In other words, this had all been carefully planned, they knew I was turning 41 on that day, purposely attacking me.
You also remained detained for quite some time…
I was taken directly to the police unit of Santiago de las Vegas, and it was only then that I noticed I had blood on my mouth, my tongue, and my arms were bruised all over. The police who received me at the entrance of the jail cells told the other officers “I can’t receive this woman all beat up, because then they will say that she suffered these injuries here”. He ordered that I be taken to a clinic. Never before in my life had I accepted medical assistance on their behalf but this time I did not refuse because I knew that from the unit to the clinic there was a long distance, and it was possible that I’d bump into some other brothers of the resistance, in which case I could denounce not only my situation but also the arrest of others, and in turn they could send the news out.
However, I had no luck; I didn’t see any other dissidents along the way. But then something very strange happened. The officers driving the police car made an unexpected turn and parked outside a house I did not recognize. They told me to get off and have coffee with them. I refused. Since I had been arrested arbitrarily, I was not going to accept getting off with them, side by side, when they are the ones responsible for the repression in Cuba. Besides, whenever I am detained I do not even drink water as a form of protest against what I consider a violation- being repressed for demanding freedom and democracy. Due to my refusal, they left me in the car for some minutes, out in the sun, until they drove off and did the same thing again, offering me another chance to have some coffee. My answer remained the same.
I was then returned to the police unit and shoved into a cell. Two officials walked in later on, one whose last name was Perez and another who said to be called Yoan. They wanted to interrogate me. Officer Perez threatened me, telling me that I could wind up in a wheelchair one of these days. He also threatened my husband and sons, saying that because of my actions they could end up in jail. Those are common threats here.
I am going to carry out dissident activities out in the street. They are not going to stop me. If they are going to make me end up in a wheel chair, well then they are going to have to beat a woman in a wheel chair because I am going to continue demanding freedom for the Cuban people. And if they lock up my husband and/or sons then we will have new political prisoners, men who are sent to jail just for thinking differently and not having committed a single crime.
I was released at around 5 in the afternoon. They kept our other brothers in struggle for a longer time, among them my husband. In his case, he had to find his own means of transporting himself back from Matanzas to our home in Havana.
You had mentioned to me that they stole some of your belongings…
Yes, during the arrest they took my cell phone, my cell phone case, and (what has hurt me the most) a key chain I had which had the colors of the Cuban flag on it along with writing which said “I love Cuba”. They returned the phone to my husband, but they robbed the case and the keychain, which is another reason why I am accusing them of thieves. I have noticed that during other arrests they have always been drawn to that keychain because they always ask me where I bought it. In other words, someone wanted to take it from me. They once again proved that the only delinquents in this country are themselves, the whole ruling class which has only robbed and destroyed the country.
Because of all the dissident activities you organize or participate in, the government makes sure that your family also suffers. What are some examples of this?
My eldest son has been arrested on various occasions. He has a rap duo which performs protest songs, they are known as Julito and El Primario. Primario’s real name is Rodolfo Ramon Ramirez Hernandez and Julito is my son, whose full name is Leon Fonseca. They have been arrested multiple times and even threatened with death for performing anti-governmental music. On one occasion, in the police unit of El Capri, they were aggressively grabbed by their necks in an attempt to damage their vocal chords. They had to spend many days without singing so that they could once again go back to doing so.
My other son, who is the youngest at age 21, has been attacked right here in my own house. He has not been arrested but they have even thrown him rocks. He has suffered the mob repudiation attacks, and the offenses, even out in the street. He has been psychologically affected by all these problems.
Both my sons even have trouble when it comes to girlfriends because of their dissident status. Many times the girls are afraid of them, as if they were doing something wrong.
My husband has suffered countless arrests and beatings, as witnessed this past Sunday. My entire family is made up of dissidents and I thank God everyday for that. They expose themselves to danger each day but we are human rights defenders and we all agree that there is a dictatorship to topple and democracy and freedom to achieve, for all Cubans. That’s something which the government has always been very bothered by because they have never been successful in dividing us.
As we witnessed during the protest on the steps of Havana’s Capitol Building, the everyday person came out in your defense. Many dissidents have recently told of similar stories. Are there other examples of this kind of solidarity that you can think of?
Yes, for example this weekend in Colon, although the repressive operation was massive, not a single everyday person took part in the attack against us. I can definitely say that I saw lots of fear on the faces of some of the locals, but none of them screamed a single word against us. They obviously were not in favor of what was happening to us and I am convinced that, despite the fear, if we had been there longer and something else would have happened, they would have intervened.
I’m sure if the repressive agents had taken a bit longer, the people would have screamed “abuse” just like they did in the Capitol protest. Also, we screamed slogans like “Down with Hunger” and that is something that really makes the everyday person identify with us, because they learn that what we are fighting for is to end hunger and desperation for all Cubans
Throughout the island, there have been cases in which the everyday people turn to dissidents to help them with their problems (often times an eviction, medical negligence, etc.). Some of these people have previously participated in mob repudiation acts or other sorts of activities against dissidents. Have you been in a similar situation where you have to defend someone who previously tried to, or did, harm you?
In all honesty, and as a person who has suffered under the hand of someone who has let themselves be manipulated by the regime, it is very difficult but yes, I have situations like that. I recently had the case where relatives of those sentenced for the deaths in the psych ward of Mazorra came to my house asking for help denouncing the situations, which are allegedly injust.
On December 16th 2009, these same workers from Mazorra participated in a mob repudiation attack here in my house, where my husband and I ended up getting beat. A few days later, one of the men who participated in the repression against us had his family visit us, asking for help. This man had previously been promoted in the ranks within the Communist Party because of his “heroic acts”. Now he was behind the bars and they needed our help to denounce this because the main culprits of the deaths were freed while the ones who perhaps aren’t the main ones responsible, were punished. Back during the time when these acts occurred, my husband had told them to stop worrying so much about attacking us and to worry about their dying patients. Surely enough, days after, it was brought to the light in January that 16 patients had died, although in reality it was more than 60. Many had been sent out of the hospital and left to die in other centers, making it seem as if they weren’t their deaths. They undeniably died of hunger, cold, and lack of care.
I am also referring to the director of the ward at that moment, who is now serving 14 or 15 years. Evidence suggests that the main culprit was not him, considering that before him came Tomas Rivas, who left the hospital in very horrible conditions- with broken windows, cold, and all around run down. For those patients who had no families, the employees would let them do their necessities on their beds. Later, they stood them up and hosed them down with cold water, causing certain diseases and even death. Not to mention, the poor diets. They murdered the patients.
Just a few days ago, it was reported that there were still patients who had been sitting on their own excrement. This is still going on. And those responsible are not imprisoned, meaning the Ministry of Justice and the President of the country, who did not respond at all to the situation.
Why have you chosen to defend these people as well?
Because, first of all, our duty is to defend human rights.
In the case of the sentenced man who is serving various years, it was even proven during the trial that he was not the main one responsible. There was a woman, whom I forgot her name, who was responsible, yet she is not behind the bars and is freely roaming Cuban streets. The family tells me that when the trial began they told her that “anything they did was futile; this has all been organized already”.
When was it that you openly joined the Cuban resistance movement?
It was in 2004, right here in Rio Verde, Havana, in the house of Rigoberto Martinez Castillo, a very well known dissident.
What inspired you to join the opposition?
I come from a family that, from the very beginning of the wrongly called revolution, openly manifested sentiments against this system. During the revolutionary beginnings, my grandfather helped out a lot because he felt that Batista had become a tyrant. Together with my father and uncles, they had all helped to clandestinely conspire. But during Castro’s first speech, my grandfather realized that the country was headed toward communism and he never fought for Castro ever again.
The family was automatically categorized as ‘hostile’ against the government. And that is how I grew up. I learned not to believe in the system or in any thing spoken by the functionaries of the regime. It was difficult growing up-I was always labeled as daughter of a counter-revolutionary. I could have had a perfect paper, yet I never received a passing grade, awards, or bonuses. Upon concluding the 9th grade, I was not given options so I started to stay at home. It was manipulated.
I was raised in a small central town of Santo Domingo in the province of Villa Clara. At 17 years of age I came to Havana to live in the house of one of my maternal aunts. Here is where I married and had my children.
Here in Havana is also where I met Rigoberto, a well known dissident. He would always tell me that since I had small children I should not get involved with dissidents. He was trying to protect me, considering that we had been such good family friends. In 2004, I felt like my kids were old enough so I decided to publicly join the opposition. It was enough of crossed arms.
I also went through something which really upset me. During the ’04 vacations I was on my way to Villa Clara with my elderly mother and we were treated horribly by the police. They left us out under a very dark bridge, and when I approached one of them so that they could stay with us for a few minutes until we had transportation, he replied “we are only here to hand out fines, see what you can figure out on your own”. I returned and my decision had been made, everything had to be changed in Cuba because it is all corrupt, including the police. I went to the home of Rigoberto, informing him of my decision. I began participating in dissident activities such as vigils.
I then learned to take things into my own hands, which is when I started to participate in street activities.
What are the obstacles you face under the dictatorship as a mother, wife, and dissident?
Everything is very difficult, first of all because dissidents don’t have jobs. Survival is tricky. The good thing is that we all share a brotherhood in which we all help ourselves out, and the exile also helps us a lot. That’s how we survive. It’s difficult to try and keep a house up, to educate my children, although mine are already grown. I thank God that our sons share my same ideals, the same ideals as my husband.
We like to refer to our house as the “General Barracks of the Opposition”. It’s full from the morning throughout the night, literally every day. We open our doors to our brothers who need our help. It is difficult but we do it from the bottom of our hearts, with lots of love, and with the hope of seeing a free Cuba. That’s what keeps us strong and keeps us going.
What’s that Cuba you fight for like?
More than anything, I fight for a Cuba in which democracy exists, where diverse opinions are respected, where every single person would have the opportunity to create their own future. I want a Cuba where there is freedom, freedom of expression, freedom to establish businesses, of establishing a system in which people could use their talents to be successful. Where no one can ever imprison anyone because of their ideas. I dream of a prosperous Cuba, not how it is now, stuck in time.
If you could relay a message to your people without any form of censorship, what would you tell them?
I would tell them to fight for the freedom and democracy of Cuba. I’d tell them that we do not put bombs, like the government says we do. On the contrary, we are fighting for their rights.
The first thing I would do would be to show them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that they know…
This is as far as the interview with Sara Marta could go. Below is the audio proving why. It was impossible to communicate with her again minutes, and even hours, after. It wasn’t until later that evening that we were able to establish communication again, when her house was surrounded by military and police. At that moment, Fonseca affirmed that “if they are going to carry out another mob attack on us, they better not think we are going to remain locked inside the house. My entire family, and all the dissidents here in my house will go out to the street”.