Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, Lady in white and National Coordinator of the Pro-Human Rights Party of Cuba, had no phone service since Saturday, March 17th when she was participating in a literary event in the headquarters of the Ladies in White, in the home of the fallen leader of the feminine group, Laura Pollan. This mass interruption of dissident’s phone lines was a censorship tactic of the Cuban regime applied not only to Fonseca but on all Ladies in White who were present in the event on that day. However, the majority of activists had their service re-established after that weekend, but Fonseca did not. Her cell phone was completely blocked until the night of Thursday, March 29th, as were the phones of her children and her home phone. For this reason, it was very difficult to clarify the details of her arrest during the Pope’s visit to the island just a week ago. (The same applied for the majority of Cuban dissidents during March 26th through to March 28th, the three days of the Pope’s visit).
Fonseca Quevedo says that she and her husband, Julio Leon Perez, were arrested during the morning hours of Friday, March 23rd, as they were leaving their home in the neighborhood of Rio Verde, in the Havana municipality of Boyeros. The couple was going to visit a few friends that morning. After walking just a block, Fonseca narrates that there “was a police operation waiting for us, and without any explanations they told us we were detained and that we could not continue walking“. It was in that moment that the agents started to shove Sara and Julio into one of the police vehicles.
“When they pushed us into the car”, recounts Fonseca, “an agent punched my husband [Julio Leon] in the jaw as they were trying to take my cellphone“, despite the fact that her phone was completely blocked. Sara Marta was taken to the Police Unit of Cotorro, while Julio was taken to the Unit of Santiago de las Vegas. Both decided to declare themselves on “hunger strike during the entire time“, according to the activist.
As tends to occur, the penal authorities started to threaten the dissidents and they were introduced into dark, humid, and sealed-off cells. Sara Marta explains that many dissidents were also taken to the Cotorro Unit. Julio also confirmed that in the Santiago Unit there were many dissidents being held. “They took all of our fingerprints“, detailed Fonseca, “and then they took pictures of us. It was an attempt to intimidate us“. However, the activist expressed, in reference to intentions of the authorities to open cases of crimes for the dissidents, that “whatever they do, whatever they say, the regime will jail us whenever they wish to, not because we have a pending case or because they have our fingerprints or photos. This is a dictatorship“.
On Sunday, March 25th, just a day before the arrival of Benedict XVI to Cuba, Fonseca and Leon were transferred to the same unit- the “Vivac“. However, the couple did not know this, considering that they never saw each other there. They found out they were in the same unit after they were released. The penal guards kept them in that unit for about 3 hours, though the reasons for doing so were unclear. Fonseca suggests that “it was some sort of physiological torture…because later they just returned us to our respective units“.
The Lady in White pointed out that, according to her husband, on Wednesday, March 28th at around 8 PM, 14 dissidents who were detained in the Unit of Santiago de Las Vegas carried out the Vigil for the Unconditional Liberation of All Political Prisoners, Without Exile– a vigil which is carried out throughout the island each Wednesday. In Rio Verde, Fonseca and her family always celebrate the vigil, despite the police vigilance and threats. “These activists started to sing the Cuban national anthem from their dungeons. At that moment, the common prisoners in the prison started to make noise with the cell bars. It was a display of solidarity with the dissidents“. According to Fonseca, the police officers did not realize that the noise was coming from the common prisoners and accused the dissidents of it, telling them to stop. Once the vigil concluded, the majority of the common prisoners started to applaud, showing even more support for the activists.
Fonseca adds that “it is very probably that all Ladies in White were arrested during the Pope’s visit” and that many people who “are not public dissidents who belong to established opposition groups” were also massively arrested. She highlighted one particular case, that of a young man whom she could not confirm his name, but who dedicates himself to paint signs with anti-government slogans and hang them on different parts of Havana. He was in the same cell as Julio Leon Perez in the Las Vegas Unit. “In the same vein, many everyday people were also arrested. All the police units were full“, affirmed the activist. Other accounts have confirmed that many homeless, alcoholic and mentally unstable Cubans were taken into custody to ‘clean up the streets of Havana’ for Benedict’s visit.
Sara Marta Fonseca and Julio Leon were released on Wednesday night, already feeling physically weak due to their hunger strikes. However, both declared that they have emerged even stronger in the spirit of Resistance. Clearly emotional, Fonseca explained that in the Cotorro Unit another Lady in White (first name Jacqueline) was told by a common prisoner that “you, the Ladies in White, are not alone. We all support you but we are afraid to do what you do“. Fonseca expressed that she believes the day in which all these people- those who are not public dissidents or activists- publicly profess their disagreement with the dictatorship and join the peaceful actions of the Cuban Resistance is very near. In reference to the Cuban regime’s attempt to make dissidents fearful, Fonseca assured that “the regime only wants to stay in power, but I feel that they have very little time left“.
For more information from Cuba:
Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo – Cell Phone: +5353 – 379 – 011 // Twitter: @SaraMartaCuba