Approximately 37 Ladies in White and another 25 dissidents made it to the National Shrine of El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba to pay tribute to Cuba’s Patron Saint, the Virgin of Charity, on the 400th anniversary of her appearance in Nipe Bay (Eastern Cuba), according to human rights activist from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Yuniesky Dominguez Gonzalez.
“We made it to the shrine after evading many obstacles put in place by Sate Security“, said Yuniesky, one of the participants of the Mass who risked his free movement in order to profess his faith on the morning of September 8th. The activist is the husband of Lady in White Taimi Vega Biscet, who suffered a miscarriage in early 2012 when she was harassed by political police and State Security forces. Vega Biscet was also present at the Mass, which she described as “very beautiful and full of peace“.
However, the presence of State Police was not absent. Motorcycles, police vehicles and uniformed agents formed a cordon around the emblematic Shrine to impede any other activists from arriving to the religious event. Vega Biscet said that as she was giving these declarations, “a State Security agent” was watching her and “making signals at me” as if to provoke her.
Alexei Juanchoy, also a dissent belonging to UNPACU, said that he and many other activists had to leave their homes two days prior to the Mass and cross though “all sorts of fields and scrublands” in order to arrive to the Shrine to pray to the Virgin of Charity, known amongst locals as ‘Cachita’. Meanwhile, Prudencio Villalongo described an ambience of “much happiness as we celebrate the day of our Patron Saint… everyday citizens have come up to us to ask how we are doing. They are asking the Ladies in White many questions, they are demonstrating concern for them…we are very proud“.
Víctor Campas Almanares said that in the Mass there was a presence of diverse dissident groups, all united.
Marta Diaz Rondon, another member of the Ladies in White present, who made it to the Shrine from the town of Banes, said that there were also women from other areas like Granma, Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, Moa and Mella. “We prayed for the political prisoners and for unity amongst all Cubans“, said Rondon, “there are many people here right now“. After Mass, the women marched towards the steps of the Shrine where they witnessed the increased presence of military forces. “The entire area is surrounded by State Security,” said the activist. The agents seemed to be waiting for anyone to walk down the steps to arrest them.
In the municipality of Antilla- also situated in the Eastern region of the island- youth activist Cristian Toranzo Fundichely used his Twitter account (@CTholguinero) to denounce that State Security agents persecuted and arrested three dissidents- Roylam Ramirez, David Hibbert, and Eusebio Martinez- in order to keep them from assisting religious festivities in that town.
In Havana, former political prisoner Ivan Hernandez Carrillo tweeted (@ivanlibre) various messages with details and audios of the moment in which the image of the Virgin arrived to the capital at around 6:20 PM. Carrillo wrote that the participation of the people in the procession was “massive and spontaneous“. The procession culminated at the Church of Charity of Central Havana, located in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo, between Manrique and Salud.
“This procession is not like the demonstrations organized by the Castro regime where all media outlets are present. This is a demonstration of the people“, added the dissident, “the people here are present because of their own will and their own heart, for the love of the Virgin of Charity“.
Hernandez Carrillo also said that at least two activists were detained at that moment to keep them from taking part in the procession. They are Mayelin Lazara Caraballo and Santiago Aldama. He added that “there is a very large-scale operation in motion here at the church by political police agents dressed in civilian clothing“.
Roberto de Jesús Guerra, director of the independent news agency ‘Hablemos Press’, reported that according to Berta Soler about 30 Ladies in White participated in the procession of the Virgin in Havana, although “many women and also men were arrested“.
Guerra also informed that in the province of Matanzas, Leticia Ramos Herreria- representative of the Ladies in White in that province- walked alongside another 7 women in the local procession, although “surrounded by political police and State Security agents. Others were impeded from coming“.
Meanwhile, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia shared a message with ‘Háblalo sin Miedo’ where he provided a list of some of the detainees who were trying to get to the Shrine.
Despite extensive operations and cordons put in place to watch, impede and harm activists on the Day of Cuba’s Patron Saint, it has been clearly emphasized this Saturday, 8th of September 2012, that the faith and devotion to the Virgin of Charity has only increased in Cuba and that Ladies in White and other dissidents alike continue to defy the repressive tactics of the Cuban regime, and express their beliefs and exercise their innate rights.