The Day of the Virgin of Mercy- the patron Saint of prisoners- is celebrated on the 24th of September, and in Cuba the Ladies in White had plans to carry out various activities beginning on Friday, the 21st, to celebrate the date with marches, candlelight vigils and assisting Mass to pray for the freedom of all political prisoners. The repressive forces of the totalitarian regime tried to interrupt these activities at all costs. Although these State operations resulted in the arrests, deportations and disappearances of more than 58 Ladies in White throughout the island during the weekend, many of these women did manage to surpass the cordons and participate in the activities.
Berta Soler, national representative of the Ladies in White, had been denouncing acts of repression and threats against the women since Wednesday the 19th, explaining that many were violently arrested by the political police when they tried to travel to the capital. One of these women was Belkis Nunez Fajardo in Havana and another was Leticia Ramos Herreria in Matanzas (the latter is representative of the Ladies in White in that province). Nunez Fajardo was released on the morning of Thursday the 20th, while Ramos Herreria was released on the afternoon of Friday the 21st, just to be arrested again on Saturday morning.
Similarly, it was confirmed- according to Soler- that on the same Wednesday, Marta Diaz Rondon, Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez and Miladis Pinales Rosa were arrested in the Eastern municipality of Banes, Holguin as they were trying to travel to Havana. All of these women were released on Sunday night. In the case of Diaz Rondon, she recently underwent a surgical procedure and, regardless of her delicate health, she was confined to a dungeon in inhumane conditions for more than 96 hours.
From that moment on, political police agents took on the task of threatening all the Ladies in White in Havana, said Berta Soler. “The oppressors went house by house, reading a document to the women which accused us of receiving orders from the United States, that we’re mercenaries and that they would not allow us to carry out our activities. They added that if we tried to leave our homes, we’d be arrested for more than 4 days“, denounced the dissident leader.
The Ladies in White carried out a vigil and participated in Mass on Friday the 21st in honor of the birth of Cuban-American activist Jorge Mas Canosa (now deceased) and the deaths of Oswaldo Paya, Harold Cepero, Laura Pollan, Orlando Zapata and “all our martyrs“. Afterward, on Saturday, they held their traditional encounter in the headquarters of the group and later marched to Mass at Santa Rita Catholic Church on Sunday, the 23rd.
The police forces of the Cuban regime- among them State Security, the Rapid Response Brigades and the National Revolutionary Police- surrounded the homes of the majority- if not all- the Ladies in White in Havana, as was the case of Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo in the neighborhood of Rio Verde, in the Boyeros municipality.
Throughout all of Friday and Saturday, Fonseca Quevedo denounced that “my house is totally surrounded by henchmen at the service of the dictatorship“. In addition, the dissident confirmed that other women like Yanelys Cabrera Bauza (later detained, also despite health complications) and Silvia Barbarba Vazquez had told her that they were in similar situations and had received verbal threats from police agents.
In fact, Fonseca Quevedo explained that while she was sharing these declarations with this blog on Friday, the 21st, “an agent stationed at the corner of my house is watching me and threatening me, making gestures as if he is going to beat me. And that is the only thing they know how to do to keep themselves in power- use all their repressive force against peaceful men and women who demand democratic changes in our country“.
“The only thing this proves to the people is that the regime is fearful of our voices“, added the dissident.
Sara Marta was one of the many women detained on the morning of Sunday, September 23rd. She was able to publish a message on Twitter (@SaraMartaCuba), alerting that she was being taken by police agents. She was released during the night time of the same day, under threats that she would be arrested again if she stepped out of her house on Monday, which she said she would do regardless.
Berta Soler confirmed many other arrests, naming some of the detainees: Rosaida González Escalona (Guantánamo), Belkis Cantillo Ramírez (Palma Soriano), Martha Beatriz Ferrer (Palma Soriano, 14 years old and daughter of opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer García), Taimi Vega Biscet (Palma Soriano), Aimé Garcés (Palma Soriano), Yelena Garcés (Palma Soriano), Karina Quintana (Santiago de Cuba), Aimé Moya Montes de Oca (Villa Clara), Mercedes Fresneda (Habana), Lisandra Farray (Villa Clara), Sandra Rodríguez (Villa Clara), Marvelis González (Villa Clara) and Noralys Martín Hernandez (Pinar del Rio), among many others.
“There are many women who were deported from Havana to their provinces, while others were detained for long periods of time, others continue detained, and some are missing. In total and up to this moment (the 23rd) there are at least 58“, said Soler.
Despite the crackdown, the representative of the group highlighted that “we have been able to carry out our activities, regardless. For example, 11 of us participated in our encounter on Saturday (although under a act of repudiation), and this Sunday 30 of us marched down 5th Avenue in Havana towards Santa Rita Church. Afterward, 22 of us were able to make it back to the headquarters where we began a candlelight vigil at 10 PM, and which will last throughout the night, where we will pray to the Virgin of Mercy not only for the freedom of all political prisoners, but also the freedom of all the Cuban people, considering that we are all prisoners on this island“.
“Thank God, for He is with us, and he allowed many of us to surpass the tactics of the repressive forces and they have not been able to fully destroy our activities“, she added.
Once again, the Ladies in White prove that they will not allow anyone or anything to deter their struggle, while the regime has proven once more that they are fearful of the peaceful actions of these brave women.