Armed only with their white clothes, gladiolus flowers and their faith, Cuba’s Ladies in White have been defying all sorts of government persecution just days before the day of the Virgin of Charity (the Patron Saint of Cuba) this September 8th, when Cubans will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Virgin’s appearance. Many of these brave women have been arrested in order to impede them from assisting Mass this Saturday, but they have assured that they will keep marching, keep resisting, and will participate in the religious activities planned for that day, a date celebrated by all Cubans around the world.
In the province of Santiago de Cuba, this week began with the arrests of various Ladies in White to keep them from traveling to the El Cobre Sanctuary to assist Saturday’s special Mass. Among the detainees are Ana Celia Rodriguez Torres, Omaglys Gonzalez Leyva and Adriana Nunez Pascual. According to Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, general coordinator of the dissident group UNPACU, “the children of Ana Celia and Omaglys were left abandoned in their respective schools until relatives found out what was happening“.
Meanwhile, activist Andrys Verdecia Osorio was arrested on Tuesday, September 4th when he was on his way to the home of Belkis Cantillo Ramirez, wife of Jose Daniel Ferrer and representative of the Ladies in White in the Eastern region, to give her some white clothes. Osorio remains detained in the police unit of Mella.
According to another activist of UNPACU- Yuniesky Dominguez Gonzalez– this Thursday, September 6th, it was confirmed that the total of detained women went up to 9. Other reports, like that of dissident Victor Campa Almanares, detail that in the town of El Cobre, where the Sanctuary is located, is completely surrounded by military forces which have set up police cordons which consist of a tight vigilance to detain and deport any Lady in White which comes close to the temple. Almanares said that the province of Santiago is practically “under a curfew“.
In Holguin, the Lady in White Zuleidis Perez Velazquez detailed that a number of members of the women’s group in that province have received threats by the political police and State Security that if they even try to travel to Havana or Santiago de Cuba, or even take to the street to go to their local churches this Saturday, all of them will be arrested for more than 90 hours. In that same province, Barbara Bauza was detained on the morning of September 5th.
Palma Soriano was the scene of a violent house raid and arrest in the home of Lady in White Vivian Hernandez Pena and her husband, dissident from the OZT National Resistance Front Misael Valdez Diaz, on the morning of this Thursday 6th of September. Police agents beat Vivian and her duaghters- ages 2 and 19- and detained them for various hours. Afterward, Misael Valdez was beaten and detained in the same manner and still has not been released. According to Hernandez Pena, her house was destroyed and “only the roof was spared“.
In Havana, a number of churches, like the Church of the Virgin of Regla, are also under police cordons, according to a denouncement by former political prisoner Ivan Hernandez Carrillo through his Twitter account (@ivanlibre). “In Regla, police vehicles and political police agents dressed in civilian clothing are keeping watch over the Sanctuaries where various processions will occur tomorrow“, said the activist.
Ladies in White in Havana, Pinar del Rio and Matanzas have also received threats that they will not be allowed to assist Mass. In the Western province of Pinar del Rio, authorities have told a number of women that they cannot wear white clothes and that they will only be allowed to go to church if they walk in groups of 2. Meanwhile, the leader of the Pinar del Rio Democratic Alliance, Raul Luis Risco Perez, was arrested on the morning of Friday, September 7th and told that he could not carry out dissident activities during the religious processions to take place.
It is not the first time that the Ladies in White and other activists face so many obstacles for trying to participate in religious activities such as these. However, they have all reiterated that they will march on Saturday, despite the consequences.
“The Catholic Church has called on all Cubans to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the appearance and presence of the Virgin of Charity in Cuba. However, a couple of Cubans who consider Cuba to be their private farm- the Castros- have decided that other Cubans who truly love and want a Cuba with all and for the good of all cannot even come close the Sanctuary as the date draws nearer“, declared Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia.