Photo of one of the many arrests Caridad Caballero Batista has suffered
In Holguin, dissidents who stepped out from the home of Caridad Caballero Batista and Esteban Sande were impeded, beaten, and detained as they tried to carry out the National ‘Boitel and Zapata Live’ March for Freedom this Monday, September 19th, in that city. In total, 14 dissidents were arrested, which besides Caballero Batista and Sande included other activists like Ariel Cruz Meneses, Juan Carlos Verdecia, Pedro Leiva, and Marta Diaz Rondon. Esteban Sande tried to record the situation but when the political police officials noticed this, they chased him down to confiscate his camera.
Marta Diaz Rondon explains that there were more than 50 agents waiting to crack-down, and so they did. “We were beaten, thrown in the police vehicles, and we were detained“, recounts the activist who traveled from her town of Banes to participate in the March with her brothers and sisters in cause. All the dissidents were taken directly to the Instructional Police Unit of Pedernales, notorious for its tiny, pestilent, and inhumane cells.
Once in Pedernales, the officials began to separate the activists, sending them off to different detention centers. In the case of Caridad Caballero, however, she was kept in Pedernales, where she slept on the filthy concrete floor for three nights, each morning awaking with “horrible ant bites on the face“. In Marta’s case, she explains that, “along with Isabel Pena Torres and Denis Pino Basulto, we were taken to a detention center in the city of Gibara“. On the way to the costal city of Gibara, these three freedom fighters began to shout anti-governmental slogans. According to Diaz Rondon, at one point, “a State Security official threatened me, telling me that he wanted to throw me into the ocean to drown me“. Once in the Unit of Gibara, the activists were each put in separate cells which were filled with cockroaches, mosquitoes, and even crabs.
Denis Pino Basulto, a 27 year old dissident who is a member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, described his cell as a dungeon of wretched conditions. In addition to having to face constant mosquito bites, Basulto explains that he had very sharp pains in one of his legs, seeing as how a State Security agent had purposely slammed shut the police car door on him during the moment of his arrest in Holguin. “That was done to me by an official nicknamed ‘The Polish‘”, denounces Denis, “he told me he was going to kill me“.
Denis shared his cell with with a 60 year old man. After chatting with him for a while, he learned that this man had been thrown in that dungeon after being charged with ‘dangerousness’ on grounds of some housing and work issues, and that he had been there for 6 days. The man’s eyes were swollen and had bacteria, caused by an infection he contracted in the prison. “From our different cells, we began to shout that this man had to have medical attention, and so the authorities took him out, put him in a car, and he was taken to get checked“.
On the following day, Isabel Pena suffered a similar fate, seeing as she already suffers from various health complications. Denis, along with Marta Diaz Rondon, began to shout about the situation of Isabel, denouncing her poor treatment. This left the jailers with no other option but to also take her to the hospital, checking her in for one day. Isabel recounts, “the police who took me to the hospital was also ‘The Polish’, and he was threatening me the entire time with slapping me. He kept telling me that all day, even if I wasn’t looking his way“.
In the hospital, “The Polish” met up with 4 other agents and kept a tight watch on Pena Torres. “They surrounded me and did not let anyone get near me the entire time“, as if she were a criminal. Afterward, she was taken back to her cell in Gibara. “Once I got there, I asked for just a little bit of water since I had been taking many pills for my conditions, but the guards flat out denied me the right. They said that since I was in protest, I couldn’t have water at all”, referring to the fact that all those detained on that day had decided to initiate a hunger strike until the liberation of all those who were trying to carry out the march.
They remained with the protest until Thursday, September 22nd, when they began to release them. In Pedernales, Caridad Caballero was released around 2 in the afternoon, but they did not provide her any means of transportation. Caballero suffered a drop in blood pressure, due to the conditions she was kept in (excessive heat) and her hunger strike, but she had to find her own means of getting back home. Along her way, she met a lady who was kind enough to provide her with coffee. Caballero had to rest for about 2 hours until she had sufficient strength again to continue walking.
In Gibara, Marta Diaz Rondon and Isabel Pena were released first, although they both decided that they would maintain their hunger strike until Denis Pino was released. In his case, he was kept for a few hours longer. “During the wait for my release“, he says, “I wrote on my cell walls- ‘Zapata Lives’ and ‘Down with the Castros’. The authorities told me I would not be released until I painted the walls and painted over my writing. I refused over and over again“. He was eventually released at around 4 pm, but the obstacles of the regime against him did not end there.
“I told an official to provide me with some sort of signed document explaining what had happened to me so I could turn it in at work“, explains Denis, “he responded by telling me that people like me did not get any papers. I told him that it was my right, and that where I work it is required I provide some sort of document whenever I miss days“. The response of the activist was to jot down the tag number of the official- 27570. “He treated me however he wanted to, he is just another henchman. I then told him to at least provide transportation back to my house, seeing as how there were so many cars in that unit, but they refused to take me as well. I had to travel back on my own account, having to ask people on the street to give me a ride back“, amid severe dizziness caused by three consecutive days of hunger strike. Pino adds that it is possible that upon going back to work, it was very likely that he didn’t even have a job anymore, seeing as “they are desperate” to kick him out because of his dissident status, and perhaps they now have an excuse.
While Denis was detained, his wife had to visit all the Police Units of Holguin with their small daughter, searching for any sort of information on her husband. Every single official she turned to refused to provide her with any sort of information, and did not even suggest as to where he may be. That is why she considered him lost. In addition, the officials also verbally abused her, offending her and telling her that she had no right to be taking her daughter around like that.
The dissident Julio Cesar Ramos, member of the Pedro Luis Boitel Movement, also tried to find out information about those who were detained on Monday. “We went to all the police units, but they would not say a thing to us“, he says, adding that, “we decided to carry out a protest that morning until our brothers and sisters were released“. He also called a wide range of other dissidents throughout the island, denouncing the situation. All families and friends of those arrested had to go through that difficult uncertainty, without having a clue as to where they were being held and in what conditions.
Caridad Caballero explains that after her release, her house has remained in total surveillance on behalf of the agents of the government. In addition, she denounces, her ID Card had been confiscated from her, preventing her from being able to travel to Havana for September 24th, a day when the Ladies in White have planned to march and assist mass. Meanwhile, Marta Diaz Rondon details that she left the detainment cell with “strong chest pains, tachycardia, and dizziness“, but reiterates that despite all the threats and violence, her fight will continue to be completely non-violent, and that the March demanded three specific rights, which she will keep defending: that international human rights pacts be respected, that all political prisoners be freed, and that the right of all Cubans to march freely throughout their own country be respected. Denis also reiterates these points and adds that, “The world must know that in Cuba Human Rights are violated by the totalitarian dictatorship, and they repress us and mistreat us. But when things come from the heart, nothing can deter them, and that is why we will keep on with our struggle, so the world knows that in Cuba there are people who want change, and we are part of that change“. The young dissident adds, “I am a father, and it is difficult, but I will keep fighting, even if the repression is constant- I need a free Cuba, because no one can live like this under this dictatorship“.