A number of Ladies in White were violently attacked and arrested by agents of the Cuban dictatorship this Sunday, April 28th, as they tried to assist Mass to pray for the freedom of Cuba.
One of the women who suffered the worst beatings was Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, representative of the group for the province of Santiago de Cuba who recently returned to Cuba after traveling to Brussels to receive the Sajarov Award alongside Laura Labrada Pollan and Berta Soler.
Cantillo’s arrest took place when a group of these women were on their way to the Rosario Church of Palma Soriano. The activist told ‘Diario de Cuba’ that various men, agents of the political police, were the ones who carried out the beating against her, even punching and attacking the women with umbrellas. “They punched me in one of my breasts, they kicked my ribs”, Belkis told the digital newspaper.
Other detainees were Taimi Vega Biscet, Yaima Naranjo, Mariela Rodríguez, Niurka Carmona, Denia Fernández, Madelaine Santos, Yasnay Ferrer and Yanela Ferrer, according to ex prisoner and dissident José Daniel Ferrer García who published the information on his Twitter account (@jdanielferrer).
Another 30 women managed to make it inside the church, but the political police organized an act of repudiation which consisted in shouts of death threats, racial slurs and other offensive phrases, according to Aime Garces, one of the Ladies inside. She explained to this blog that despite the repression “the Ladies in White will continue firm and without fear”.
Jose Daniel Ferrer recounted that Father Palma displayed solidarity with the persecuted women. On the YouTube channel of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) videos of what happened in Palma Soriano have been published:
In the same channel there are also videos of interviews with some of the detained Ladies in White, here and here.
In other parts of the island, Ladies in White marched and assisted Mass, as was the case in the province of Matanzas and in Havana. Dissident leader and former political prisoner of conscience Angel Moya Acosta published various photos of these women marching in Havana on his Twitter account (@jangelmoya).
Moya recounts that 44 Ladies marched in the capital, demanding the release of Sonia Garro Alfonso (one of their members, jailed for more than a year) and her husband Ramon Alejandro Munoz. They were accompanied by more than 40 men, human rights activists.
Meanwhile in Miami, the representative of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, participated in an emotional and very symbolic Mass at the Ermita Shrine, along with exiled Ladies in White and former political prisoners, as well as many members of Miami’s exile community. The Mass, hosted by Father Rumin, was dedicated to the fallen Laura Pollan and all martyrs of the Cuban dictatorship. There was a moment of prayer for the Ladies who were violently arrested that morning in Cuba, simply for trying to do what so many people were doing on that afternoon in Miami.
Soler was handed a Cuban flag with the image of the Virgin of Chartiy, while she presented a Cuban flag at the altar.
A moving surprise came when Cuban musician Amaury Gutierrez showed up to sing “Laura“, a song written by Luis Piloto and dedicated to Laura Pollan. In Cuba, the Ladies in White sing this song each Sunday after carrying out their Sunday marches.
Soler has been received with much affection by the Cuban exile, while she has been seeking more international support for the internal opposition.
Through an excessive amount of violence, the dictatorship has sent a clear message to Berta Soler and other activists who have traveled outside the country to let the world know about the Cuban reality, as was the case of the repression against Belkis Cantillo, just days after having returned from her trip abroad. However, the Ladies in White are also sending out a clear message to that same dictatorship: they do not fear them, they will continue out on the streets and they will not rest until Cuba is free.
At just 14 years old, Martha Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo is one of the youngest, and most active, Ladies in White in Cuba, and not only because her parents are renown human rights defenders on the island (former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia and Belkis Cantillo Ramirez), but because she believes that “it is a just cause” and that “all Cubans deserve a sovereign and free country“.
Her young age, however, does not exempt her from the same police repression which all these women face every Sunday and nearly every day, as was proven this past Sunday, October 21st, when Martha Beatriz and three other minors- her sister (7 year old Fatima Victoria), her brother (9 year old Daniel), and another young member of the Ladies in White (11 year old Daniela Garces)- were all taken down from a bus by force and then harassed and physically assaulted by police agents who impeded them from reaching their destination.
“We were on our way from Palma Soriano to the Shrine of El Cobre when we were intercepted on the street by political police agents“, said Ferrer, “they boarded the bus and told us 4 that we had to get off, but we refused to do so because us going to Mass does not constitute a crime, as it is not a crime for any other Cuban”.
The agents responded the same way they respond against any other dissident: with physical aggressions.
“They shouted obscene words at us and then took us down by force… then a police bus arrived and they told us we had to go inside. We refused. Various uniformed women shoved and dragged us to the bus. One of these women, whose name I could not confirm, grabbed me by the neck and choked me. Daniela was scratched. And my brother Daniel was pushed and hit a couple of times when they were putting him on the bus. We fell to the steps of the bus because they were pushing us so much“, recounted the youth.
The 4 minors were forcefully put inside the bus. In the case of Daniela Garces, she was left at the entrance of Palma Soriano, near her house, while Martha Beatriz and her siblings were “abandoned in the bus station“. They all directed themselves to the home of Lady in White Aime Garces.
But it is not the first time that these 4 have been subjected to detentions, physical aggressions or threats, affirmed Martha Beatriz without any hints of fear in her voice.
“My little sister and brother have been detained along with my mother when we have been traveling on buses to get to church, while Daniela and I have been removed from buses together before“, she explained.
Much has been said about the ‘apathy’ which ‘consumes’ young Cubans. However, the adolescent Martha Beatriz affirms that there are more like her, in the Eastern part of Cuba as well as the rest of the island. The young Lady in White sent a clear message to the youths of her country:
“To the Cuban youth I say, we must fight for our rights, so that they no longer violate them. Fight for a free Cuba where all rights are respected, as well as the rights of our parents. So that our parents can have decent salaries and access to jobs as well“.
Meanwhile, to the Cuban youth outside of the island she asks they “support us, because we are fighting for the freedom of all Cubans“.
Seven activists from diverse opposition organizations were detained during the morning of Monday, November 28th, while protesting in front of the Melia Hotel of Santiago de Cuba. Those arrested were Aimé Garcés Leyva, Vivian Peña Hernández, Yelena Garcés Nápoles, Yurileysi Vázquez López, Mirelis Frías and Héctor Félix Labrada Muñoz and Miguel Rafael Cabrera Montoya. The last two are recently released political prisoners who spent weeks behind the bars for carrying out other non-violent dissident activities during the months of August and September. The seven activists represent three different organizations- FLAMUR, the Republican Party of Cuba, and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPAC) and all make up the “One Currency” Campaign, reason why they were arrested.
Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who has been reporting about the latest developments of this story through his Twitter account, explained to this blog that the activists who are carrying out this campaign have been demonstrating publicly in different locations during the past few weeks in order to effectuate peaceful actions “against the dual currency system and in favor of just one currency“. Ferrer is referencing the fact that the Cuban regime uses both a system of national currency and that of convertible currency (best known as “CUC”). The former prisoner of conscience narrates that withing the past months many of these activists have been going to local places “which sell products in the convertible currency, and so they purchase some things and when it comes time to pay they pay with national currency“.
This has been done in a wide range of public spaces from restaurants to markets, and on this 28th of November they tried doing the same in the Melia Hotel of Santiago de Cuba. Generally speaking, according to Ferrer, “local workers have received orders from their superiors that if they receive the equivalent needed in national currency, then there is no need to call the police. But today the police were called and the dissidents ended up getting arrested right in front of the hotel”.
The dissidents were taken to the Third Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba and as of Monday afternoon they remain there.
“This is one more of the many actions which have been taking place throughout the Eastern region of the country“, affirms Ferrer, outlining that a few days ago in the town of Contramaestre a very large protest was carried out by members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba. “That protest has given people lots to talk about because hundreds of everyday people congregated around the scene in order to observe the activities and the majority demonstrated their solidarity with dissidents“. Though 9 of the 10 opposition members of this protest were arrested, they were released during the afternoon hours of the following day. They have witnessed gestures of solidarity and support on behalf of the everyday community.
Ferrer adds that “two Ladies in White who were present in that protest have told me that out on the street people have not grown tired in telling them that they are brave. The people approach them to hug them, kiss them, or simply just to demonstrate sympathy“.
(via Laida Carro of the Coalition of Cuban-American Women)
A summary of the brutal repression in Cuba this past week, including reports of what just occurred this weekend- violent arrests of various Ladies in White and two hunger strikers being urgently rushed to the hospital, under life-threatening conditions. The regime tightens its grip, the resistance does not falter one bit:
PEACEFUL HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS CONTINUE FACING BRUTAL MOB ATTACKS, BEATINGS, AND ARBITRARY ARRESTS FOR THEIR PEACEFUL ACTIONS
October 30, 2011
In the Eastern city of Guantanamo, the home of Niovis Rivera Guerra, (member of the Resistance and Democracy Movement), his wife, Yurilaidy Travieso and three young daughters, 13, 9 and 3 years old, was surrounded by patrol cars, military vehicles, and subjected to, at least, two days of brutal mob attacks (October 25-26, 2011) of around 400 people. Asphalt was thrown against the house, all the windows, as well as the door, were stoned and broken, the family received death threats, and Rivera Guerra was beaten and tear gased. All this brutal violence was because the family displayed pro democracy and human rights posters in the front of their home. This is the fifth time in 2011, that the home of this activist is attacked. Several members of the Resistance and Democracy Movement were beaten and arrested when they tried to come to the aid of Niovis Rivera Guerra and his family: Hermis Figueras Ros, Francisco Osoria Claro, and the Adventist Pastor Raul Martinez Caraballo.
Also in Eastern Cuba, on October 26, 2011, several cities suffered government repression, In Contramaestre, any activist or citizen who visits the home of human rights defender, Jorge Cervantes is under scrutiny by the political police. In Moa, Rapid Response Brigades threw eggs against the home of the coordinator of the UMPACU, Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria and the Lady in White, Annis Sarrion Romero.
Two human rights defenders in Santa Clara (Central Cuba) who were on a hunger strike since September 28, 2011, demanding that the Cuban government put a stop to the violence against peaceful activists, were taken in critical state to the Provincial Hospital Arnaldo Milian Castro. Alcides Rivera Rodriguez was admitted to the hospital on Thursday, October 27, 2011, and diagnosed with bronchopneumonia. Rolando Ferrer Espinosa was admitted on the following day. Alcides has lost almost 60 lbs. while Ferrer Espinosa who is suffering a severe abdominal pain has lost over 30 lbs.of his body weight. Both continue in critical condition.
On October 24, 2011 several human rights activists were arrested in Havana when peaceful organizations such as the National Front of Civil Resistance and Desobedience and the Human Rights Party called on activists to gather at the Martin Luther King Park. Adjacent streets to this park were all surrounded by State Security agents. Among several activists arbitrarily detained and released were Sara Marta Fonseca and Rodolfo Ramirez Cardoso.
On Sunday, October 30, 2011, ten Ladies in White, in Eastern Cuba, were beaten and arbitrarily detained as they tried to attend mass in the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. The following women were mistreated and suffered short term detention: Aymeé Garcés Leyva (as well as her husband Julio Valcarcel), Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, Vivian Peña Hernández, Liudmila Rodríguez Palomo, Adriana Núñez Pascual, María Elena Matos, Oria Casanova Moreno, Yuremi González Pavót, Tania Bandera González, Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres and a minor 14 years old, Marta Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo the daughter of Lady in White, Belkis Cantillo and the expolitical prisoner of conscience, Jose Daniel Ferrer.
At least three homes of activists who had gathered in the Eastern cities of Palma Soriano and Palmarito de Cauto to protest the violence against the Ladies in White on October 30 were surrounded by repressive forces. Under siege were the following human rights defenders of the National Front Orlando Zapata as well as members of the UMPACU ( Patriotic Union of Cuba): Prudencio Villalon, Roberto Quiñones, Pedro Manuel Guerrero, Julio Cesar Salazar, Ruben Torres, Dany Lopez, Rudy San Ramirez, Rolando Humberto Gonzalez, Maximiliano Sanchez, Abraham Cabrera, Amauri Abelenda and Manuel Martinez.
FURTHER INFORMATION IN CUBA: José Daniel Ferrer – + 53 53631267 / Belkis Cantillo – + 53 53790867 /
Although a few days have passed since the death of Laura Pollan, I have not been able to update the blog during this time. The following report not only serves as proof of the constant repression in Cuba, but also as a tribute to Laura, considering that this Lady in White dedicated the majority of her time to resisting the Cuban dictatorship and fighting for human rights. In my opinion, like in the opinion of many other Cubans inside and outside of the island, the death of Pollan was the fault of the Castro regime. Some have said that the strange infection which she suffered from during her last days, which led her to the intensive care unit of the Calixto Garcia Hospital, was the product of a lethal injection given to her at the hands of government mobs- a theory which I do not in any way doubt, for they are very capable of this and much worse, and this must be kept into consideration. And, let’s say, that there was no lethal injection. Regardless, the reality is that the constant mob repudiation attacks, the brutal beatings, the blackmailing, and the harassment against this brave woman did play a crucial part in the deterioration of her health, and ultimately, her death.
The news of her death has been a very difficult blow for all Cubans, for that hurt, but not weak, resistance. Threatened, but not afraid. The example and spirit of Pollan will continue guiding the resistance, and no dictatorship can ever stop that.
Laura Pollan: A Cuban Repressed by the Regime, a Cuban Loved by her Compatriots
In less than two years, three known figures among the Cuban resistance have been killed by the Castro dictatorship- Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February of 2010, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia in May of 2011, and the most recent- Laura Pollan Toledo during this month of October 2011. And as has occurred after each one of these deaths, the funerary acts have been marked by the regime’s repression against dissidents and all those family and friends who wished to pay their final tributes to the victim.
It was around 7 PM on Friday, October 14th, when the news arrived. “Laura Pollan has passed away“, read various Tweets straight out of the island, after she had spent a little over a week in the intensive care unit of the Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana. From the very moment that her death was confirmed, Cubans in and out of the island mobilized to express their solidarity, their pain, and deep frustration. In Miami, Cubans shocked by the news- among them Reina Luisa Tamayo- congregated outside the popular local Versailles Cuban Restaurant, while the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity kept its doors open all night, offering a place to pray for the soul of the dignified Lady in White.
In Cuba, the pain shared by dissidents and relatives of Pollan was not respected by the dictatorship, which was expected. The political police and the National Police carried out an aggressive operation throughout the island, including in Holguin where dissidents Caridad Caballero Batista and Isabel Pena Torres were trying to get to the local bus station to travel to Havana to be present in the wake of Laura Pollan and express their solidarity with her relatives. “It was around 2:40 AM when we were intercepted on the street by National Police and State Security agents who shoved us in police vehicles and took us to the the Pedernales Unit“, the detainment center notorious for its completely dark cells and the aggression which functionaries treat inmates with, “The arrest was very violent, they pushed onto the vehicle, and State Security even gave orders to drag us through the floor“. The activists were kept in separate cells. Caridad added that on Sunday, at around 4 in the afternoon, a lieutenant by the name of Armando Rivera snatched the few belongings of Isabel Pena Torres which included documents of her medical history. Upon seeing this document, officer Rivera tore it to pieces and threw them on the floor. After an interrogation session and an aggressive beat down, Isabel had to pick up the pieces herself. Caridad and Isabel were later released from the dark and humid cells at around 8 PM on Saturday.
Caridad Caballero also informed of other violent arrests in other eastern parts of the country. “In Velasco, Holguin, Yonart Rodriguez Avila and his mother Mariblanca Avila were both detained as they tried to head to Havana. Instead they spent the night in prison cells“, while similarly “In Sagua, Anni Sarrion Romero and Milagros Leiva Ramirez, whom were traveling from Moa, were arrested at around 1:30 AM. Both women were beat off the bus by State Security and Political Police agents”. Caballero adds that despite the fact that she was detained for hours, her home remained surrounded by government agents the entire time.
During that same somber night when the news of Laura Pollan began to spread, police vehicles and G2 (Secret Police) agents immediately surrounded the home of former political prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia in the eastern town of Palmarito de Cauto. Ferrer’s wife, Belkis Cantillo, also tried to get to the funeral of Laura Pollan together with Aime Garces and Tania Montoya. The three women were arrested at around 11 PM. They were taking to the Police Unit of Contramaestre and from there they were transferred to the the 3rd National Revolutionary Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba, where they remained until Monday. Various activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) also suffered violent arrests- Leudis Fajardo Rivera, Martín Ruíz González, Mario Antonio Brocal Borges, Bárbaro Tresol Verdecía, Omar Wilson Estévez, Omar Pérez Torres, Yilian Pérez Sarrión, and Gerardo Guerrero Sarrión.
In Manzanillo, dissidents from the Independent and Democratic Cuban Party (CID) denounced that various activists from this same group had been detained, among them Juan Eduardo Salgado Jurado, Enrique Piñeiro Azahares, Abdel Mecochini Avalos, Manuel Enrique Peláez, Ramón Enamorado and Roberto Jurado Salgado as they tried to get to Moncada Avenue where they would take part in the signing of the condolences book for Laura Pollan. A few hours later, Ubaldo Manuel León suffered a mob repudiation attack in that same town.
In Banes, on Sunday October 16th there was a mass held in which various attendees prayed for Laura. The mass was assisted by dissidents Marta Diaz Rondon and Vivian Tamayo Ramayo. Upon concluding the services, both Rondon and Ramayo tried traveling to Holguin to join in solidarity with their fellow detained dissidents but they were arrested at around 11:30 AM and released at 1:50 PM. Ariel Cruz Meneses, Rafael Meneses Pupo, and Dayami Romero Ortiz were also arrested, at around 7:00 AM and released at 12 in the afternoon.
Former political prisoner of conscience Pedro Arguelles Moran reported that on the same night of Laura’s death, the regime’s police forces surrounded his home in Ciego de Avila, impeding him, and anyone else inside, from stepping outside to travel to the capital. The situation was repeated throughout the country, in a wide range of cities and provinces, while in Havana, the Maseda-Pollan family (accompanied by dissidents and friends) bid their final farewells to Laura Pollan. She was cremated a few hours later. The pastor and independent blogger, Ricardo Medina was present during the wake with his wife Katia Sonia Martin, also a Lady in White. Medina provided religious services for Pollan and published an excellent account which detailed the emotions of that somber moment on his blog. He also reported that his wife, Katia, and other women were intercepted by State Security agents on Sunday October 16th as they were taking floral arrangements to the Santa Rita Church . The government agents snatched their flowers and hurled them on the floor, destroying the arrangement altogether. Katia also suffered an arrest.
Even among so much pain and repression, solidarity and international support emerges
Although this has been a very difficult stage for the Cuban resistance, it is also important to point out that the devastating news of Laura Pollan’s death has also given way to an important emergence of solidarity amongst Cubans inside and outside of the island.
Some of these displays of solidarity have been:
Activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) demonstrated throughout the streets of Moa, Holguin, with signs which read ‘Laura has not died’ and ‘Laura, we will continue your struggle’. In Santiago de Cuba, Father Jose Conrado decided to dedicate his Sunday mass in the Church of Santa Teresita to Laura Pollan, while archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez did the same in another church. According to Jose Daniel Ferrer, various homes throughout the country declared themselves “in mourning”, hanging up signs honoring the fallen leader of the Ladies in White.
“Although it has been very sad for all of us, The Ladies in White and Ladies in Support will continue fighting for freedom, just like Laura always did. For us, she has not died. Laura continues to be alive in spirit, and she will be among us and guiding us, giving us strength to continue fighting against those who assassinated her. And we can say that, yes, she was killed, the government killed Laura through their countless beatings and even the disease she suffered from in her last days, which we cannot rule out the possibility that it was contracted at the hands of government mobs“, declares Caridad Caballero Batista from Holguin. From Placetas, Antunez declared through his Twitter account, “Laura, your brothers from the resistance are honoring you with the Resistance and Dignity Award“, while in Havana, the blogger Yoani Sanchez sported a T-shirt with Laura Pollan’s image all day in public, while also blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo handed the family in mourning a book of condolences.
On Sunday, a mass was dedicated in Havana to Laura Pollan in the Church of Santa Rita. It was accompanied by the weekly march of the Ladies in White, for the first time without their leader. It was attended by her husband, Hector Maseda, as well as Berta Soler and her husband Angel Moya, including many other Ladies and White and dissidents. Berta Soler declared that the movement of the Ladies in White had suffered a very strong blow but that it is emerging with much more strength, and that they would continue to be active and united in the name of Laura Pollan.
In the United States, various political figures joined Cuban dissidents in solidarity, from president Barrack Obama to Cuban-American legislators such as Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Marco Rubio, as well as Florida State Senator Bill Nelson. Other international leaders, from countries such as Spain and France, also offered condolences.
Cuban exiles in Tampa announced that there will be a march in honor of Pollan on Sunday, October 23rd, while Cubans in Madrid- in their majority former political prisoners from the Black Spring- also dedicated a mass to Laura.
During the Sunday Mass of October 16th, Miami’s Sanctuary for the Virgin of Charity (La Ermita de la Caridad) dedicated their services to Pollan, praying for her dignified soul. Attending were many former political prisoners and Ladies in White now in exile, who filled the sanctuary with white. The owner of Miami’s popular Versailles Cuban Restaurant- Felipe Vals- hung various signs throughout the locale which read ‘Zapata Lives and Laura Pollan Lives”, along with a note of admiration on behalf of Vals to Pollan which was placed at the entrance of the constantly busy restaurant. And as soon as the news came out, Miami Dade College announced that it would offer a scholarship which would carry the name of Laura Pollan.
Also in Miami, a number of exiled Cuban women have called on the community to carry out a vigil in memory of Laura Pollan, as well as to denounce the atrocities committed by the regime which lead to her death. The activity will take place on Friday, October 21st and will include the presence of a diverse range of exiled pro-freedom organizations such as MAR por Cuba, the Coalition of Cuban American Women, the Cuban Democratic Directorate, Exile United, Young Cubans in Action, and the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights (in exile). Meanwhile, Cuban musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan have announced that they are planning a massive event in honor of Pollan and in solidarity with the Ladies in White and Cuban resistance in general. After the assassination of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February of 2010 and after the brutal beat down of the Ladies in White on March of 2010, the Estefans carried out a march in Miami which was attended by more than 100,000 people marching down 8th street, dressed in white, and flowers at hand.
Another Cuban figure has joined the list of heroes and patriots which have lost their lives for dedicating their efforts for achieving Cuba’s freedom, and although deeply pained, we can now say, with certainty (among many others) that Pedro Luis Boitel Lives! Orlando Zapata Tamayo Lives! Juan Wilfredo Soto Lives! and yes, Laura Pollan Lives!
(Wednesday, October 5th 2011)– Amid candles, signs, and prayers, a vigil was held in Miami’s famous Versailles Restaurant for the immediate and unconditional release of Sara Marta Fonseca, her husband Julio Leon Perez, and all Cuban political prisoners. Every Wednesday, a vigil is held in Versailles by the group of former prisoners who help Cuba’s internal resistance directly, known as “Plantados” in demand for the freedom of Cuba’s constant victims of repression and imprisonment. This time, the event also counted on the participation of other groups, as well as former prisoner from the group of the 75 and recently exiled Ladies in White.
The event officially began with a prayer as all the candles began to light up. Then some of those who were present shared a few words- among them former political prisoners Angel de Fana, Huber Matos, and Fidel Suarez Cruz. Many participants carried signs with photos not only of Sara Marta but also of other women who have suffered countless acts of repression and violence in recent days, women like Yris Tamara Aguilera, Marta Diaz Rondon, Caridad Caballero Batista, Laura Pollan, Belkis Cantillo, Aimee Garces and many others.
More than anything, the vigil proved (as it has been proven on many occasions) that Cubans can come together, despite various groups and ideologies, to demand freedom for all their sisters and brothers on the island.
The following is a video of the Vigil. One can clearly see the solidarity displayed that night:
Despite the fact that various headlines have attempted to distract international attention from what is occurring in Cuba, this Sunday August 28th was the 6th consecutive Sunday in which dozens of dissidents- mainly women- have been violently attacked by the regime’s forces. And, each passing day, the methods of repression are more ‘sophisticated’.
This time, the acts of hate began on Saturday when dissidents attempted to get to Palma Soriano in order to assist mass at the Cathedral of Santiago and to march with the Ladies in White on Sunday. Early that morning at around 8 am Caridad Caballero Batista and Marta Diaz Rondon were aboard a car on their way to Palma Soriano, arriving at Bayamo. Upon arriving to this city, the women noticed that there were already motorcycles and police cars belonging to State Security and the Revolutionary Police stationed around the area. It was at that moment that the agents forced the vehicle to pull over. Around 15 uniformed officers walked towards the car.
“After forcing the car to abruptly pull over“, narrates Diaz Rondon, “they dragged us out all the way into a police car. They put me in one and Caridad in another“. Inside the car both women were beat and insulted. Caridad Caballero points out that she suffered various violent blows, including a punch which broke her lips. “The person who hit me in the mouth was a man, a very tall and corpulent police officer. After hitting me in the mouth he told me he was going to break my neck“, she explains. The dissident was also choked and suffered a fracture in a finger of her hand.
They were then taken to a police center in Bayamo where they were “once again dragged throughout the floor into an office” just to be threatened and interrogated. “They were also performing locks on our necks“, explains Marta Diaz Rondon, in reference to a martial arts technique in which the attackers wrap their arms around the victims neck in a choke hold. While applying those same “locks” they dragged the women various times up and down steps to be taken into different offices, all the while suffering injuries in their backs, legs, arms, and necks.
After being held in that detainment center for a few hours, the functionaries decided that they would have to check them to see if they carried any important objects with them. The objects commonly snatched were cameras, voice recorders, pens, cell phones, or laptops. Although the women had none of this, the men ordered the other women functionaries to take off the clothes of Diaz and Caballero. “They wanted to strip us naked in front of the men while they screamed some very ugly words to us, words so ugly that I am ashamed of repeating“, explains Rondon. Caballero adds, “The men were making some sexual gestures with their fingers as they told the women to lower our pants. They were telling us that they were going to do things to us with their fingers, they were grabbing their testicles, and they used very strong and ugly words“.
Caballero Batista and Diaz Rondon were then taken to an instructions center in Holguin where they were kept in a dungeon which Rondon classified as “inhumane”. “It was a cell where all the windows were completely covered by concrete, it was very dark, we couldn’t tell if it was time or nighttime outside and it smelt very strong of urine“, she recounts. In Holguin, the women were handed a warning letter which stated that they had committed acts of public disorder. “But we didn’t cause disorder,” declares Diaz Rondon, “the disorder was on behalf of those who beat and mistreated us. We are just peaceful women armed with our white flowers and our words, demanding freedom for all Cuban political prisoners“.
They were kept in that detention center until the morning of Sunday, August 28th, 24 hours later.
Anti-riot squads, tear gas, violent arrests
Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia
Meanwhile, Palma Soriano was once again the scene of escalated violence against the Ladies in White, other dissidents, and neighbors who had joined in solidarity, the same way it has been for the past Sundays of July and August. 13 Ladies in White tried leaving from the home of Aimee Garces Leyva in order to assist mass but were quickly and violently impeded by government forces. They then received a beating and were also thrown aboard an bus. Among those 13 women were Tania Montoya, Belkis Cantillo, Aimee Garces, and Berta Soler who traveled from Matanzas in order to support her Eastern sisters. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who has been reporting all this news from his Twitter account, warned that it was possible that that Tania Montoya had “suffered a fractured arm” after such a brutal beating.
Ferrer Garcia also condemned that soldiers used tear gas against the home of Marino Antomarchi where 26 dissidents were meeting. Also inside was the family of the house which includes a small 2 year old. “They were asphyxiating the people inside. They had to taken the small girl out by the back window. They then arrested one of the dissidents while the other 25 remained inside and while the government kept launching tear gas at them“. Ferrer, as well as Luis Felipe Rojas, then sent out urgent Twitter messages reporting that anti-riot troops, armed with shields and weapons, had entered the town and invaded the home of Antomarchi, violently arresting men and women. On the morning of Monday August 29th Luis Felipe sent out another tweet condemning “dozens of arrests, raids, and injured activists was the outcome of the dark spectacle carried out by anti-raid troops in Palma Soriano“.
Various homes in that same area were surrounded by police forces including that of Raudel Avila and Tania Montoya, and that of Maximiliano Sanchez in Palmarito de Cauto. Ferrer Garcia also denounced that police officials that were surrounding homes were heavily armed “even with clubs“.
Solidarity among neighbors was not absent, either. “A young man from the neighborhood, already bothered by so many abuses“, narrates the former political prisoner of conscience, “ran out of his house and screamed ‘down with Fidel’ and was quickly beaten and arrested“. This act has been yet another display of nonconformity in the midst of so much unmeasurable violence, another sign of solidarity with the Cuban resistance. Sunday after Sunday, violence against dissidents has been increasing and each time non-dissident neighbors intercede to defend the oppressed and in turn, in the majority of times they are beaten and detained as well. Every time more people join in, whether it be in Eastern Cuba or in other provinces, as was witnessed in the protest in the Cuatro Caminos Market of Havana, organized by Ivonne Mallesa Galano and Rosario Morales Darrosa, and where more than 300 everyday Cubans joined in.
Physical blows, shoves, stonings, arrests, threats, torture with German Shepherds, launching tear gas, and the use of anti-riot troops form part of the repressive machinery which the Cuban dictatorship has been applying against the non-violent resistance. “The situation continues to be very tense“, states Ferrer Garcia, “and it will continue that way because our people have maintained their firm attitude and have decided to continue protesting peacefully against the violence applied by the police police of the Castro brother dictatorship“.
Marta Diaz Rondon declares, “they think that by hitting us we are going to grow fearful, but it will not happen. We are going to continue taking to the streets and protesting until there is freedom in Cuba and until there is not a single political prisoner“. She went on to state that dissidents are not afraid, “rather the oppressors are the ones that are afraid because they know that the day when more people join the opposition and that Cuba will be free is very near“. Caridad Caballero reiterated that same persistence and faith in victory, “They do not want us to keep on but we are not going to stop, we will continue. They’ll have to kill us, but we’re not stopping“.
Despite the immense bravery of these dissidents and so many others that suffer such violence, not just every Sunday but every single day, and not only in Eastern Cuba but in all of the island, the level of repression practiced by the regime is alarming. Each time they apply new, more dangerous, methods like the use of tear gas and anti-riot squads. During these days, the memory of dignified Cubans who gave their lives in hope to achieve freedom- Cubans like Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Pedro Luis Boitel- are more present than ever. Cuba does not need more martyrs, but if it has to be that way there are dissidents that are willing to hold that torch high. But it is the duty of us Cubans living outside to prevent another fatal outcome. Along with the international media, we cannot ignore what is occurring inside of the island.
Physical blows, shoving, threats, deportations, and arrests against those who oppose a vile system of government. That is how a dictator’s birthday is celebrated, specifically that of the olive green Cuban dictator who turned 85 this past weekend. He has spent 52 years out of those 85 pushing the trigger, handing out life sentences, and censoring conscience. It was done yesterday and continues to happen today. No one is safe from the brutality, not even a group of peaceful women who only wish to travel to a church and stand before an altar to pray to God so that men who are in prison for thinking differently be released and so that freedom may arrive for an enslaved country. Another day, another story. Another Sunday, another report of horror.
Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba
It was the early morning of August 14th when Caridad Caballero Batista awoke in Holguin, ready to travel a few miles to the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. Three other Ladies in White were with her- Maritsy Columbie Lopez, Isabel Pena Torres, and Berta Guerrero Segura. The Ladies then met up with other sisters-in-cause like Belkis Cantillo, Aimee Garces, among other names. In total, they were a group of 10 Ladies in White. The purpose of their excursion was to assist mass together to pray for political prisoners and for the entire Cuban country, the same way they have tried to do during the past 4 Sundays.
“When we were already in Palma Soriano“, explains Caballero, “we boarded a truck which had four rows of seats“. All the women decided to sit in the center section of the truck, which was en route to the town of El Cristo. Upon arriving to the security checkpoint of that town, the dissidents noticed that there was already a heavy militarized presence. “We noticed right away that the whole area was surrounded by police officials, agents of State Security, and members of the Rapid Response Brigade“.
As if their was a terrorist or some other sort of criminal on the vehicle, the officials ordered that they pull over. “They ordered everyone on board to get off, including the non-dissidents. Many of these people complained and demanded that they explain why this was happening“, recounts Caballero. The Ladies in White and Ladies of Support decided to resist and remained seated. According to Caridad, as consequence the officials demanded that they too get off the truck, for the entire operation was aimed at them. The response of these brave women was to demand that the soldiers explain to the people who they were and why they were threatening and arresting them.
“We demanded that they explain to all those present that we were Ladies in White, human rights defenders, and that we were trying to get to the Cathedral to pray for the liberation of all the political prisoners as well as to pray for all of Cuba, including them, and so that human rights be respected in Cuba”, declared Caballero Batista.
Upon noticing the strong and unbreakable conviction of these women, the agents knew that they were not going to even move a foot. It was at that moment that they applied violence against them. “They started to pull us out of the vehicle by force, pushing and shoving us”, explains Batista, who suffered a similar repressive act just a week ago together with other activists, many of who were also present this time as well. “They ended up shoving us out, some women of our group fell, hurting themselves even more. Isabel Pena Torres suffered a fracture in her ankle and on the pinky finger of her left foot. We all received blows, we have bruises, our hair was pulled, and more”.
Caridad Caballero Batista
In addition to this report of abuses and lack of respect, we must also add the testimony about Berta Guerrero, also a Lady in White, being choked by agents of the repressive forces. As for Caridad Caballero, she tells that “they ripped off everything I had on my hair. I was hit and have bruises on my legs because they dragged me throughout the truck. All the while a very large agent was punching me, and they even threw my purse off the top floor of the truck”. After these actions which are representative of the Cuban dictatorship, all the women were deported back to their home provinces, in the case of Caridad back to Holguin.
“Maritsy Columbie, the Lady in White from Guantanamo, was taken alone in a police vehicle”, details Caballero, “They couldn’t conform themselves with just deporting her so they left her in a town called Rio Frio after snatching away her shoes. She had to walk barefoot throughout the whole village until she made it back home, which was far from there”.
More tactics of repression: Arrests, using Dogs as Torture, Threat
Once again, the former political prisoner from the group of the 75, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia used his limited Twitter messages to report all the happenings. “Political police and repressive Rapid Response Brigades are stationed in Santiago, Palma Soriano, and Palmarito de Cauto ready to repress activities held by the opposition“, read one of his first Tweets of the day, after he condemned the aggressive beatings carried out against Caridad Caballero, his wife Belkis Cantillo, and many other women.
A few minutes later, Ferrer also denounced that various homes were being victim of violent mob repudiation attacks, among them the house of Rene Hierrezuelo in the town of El Caney (where various dissidents were holding a meeting) as well as that of Marino Antomarchy in Palma Soriano.
The former prisoner of conscience also alerted about the arrests of three other Ladies in White- Maria Elena Matos, Annia Alegre Pécora, and Adriana Núñez Pascua- who they tried to scare and intimidate by using dogs. “Maria Elena, Annia, and Adriana, who were all detained in the political police unit were threatened with German Shepherds the entire time”, read his Twitter message. The tactic of using dogs for torture was also used by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
As product of the beatings unleashed against Adriana Núñez Pascual, she had to be urgently rushed to the hospital to tend to her wounds. Also, Luis Felipe Rojas sent out a Twitter message in which he explained that the Lady in White/Support, Anie Sarrion, was also savagely beaten in the town of Moa by members of the Rapid Response Brigade, suffering a cranial trauma. On the following day, August 15th, Eastern Democratic Alliance activists Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina and Julian Mones were detained while they were attempting to travel to visit their injured compatriot.
In regards to the violence against the Ladies in White, Jose Daniel Ferrer added that “not only do the Ladies suffer beatings, but their clothes are also ripped, in many cases they have left them with their breasts out in the air“. Caridad Caballero assured that despite the numerous methods of torture, they will not cease their activities each Sunday, or any day for that matter. “They may kills us out there in the streets, but we are not going to stop“, she affirmed.
It is assumed that religious centers serve as sanctuaries for the persecuted, that there exists some sort of respect for those who enter and exit through their doors. It is assumed that women should not be beaten, especially by a man. It is assumed that peaceful actions are not supposed to be confronted with violence. But, as is expected, the dictatorship of the Castro brothers in Cuba classifies such manners as insignificant, especially when it comes to to dissidents. As various media outlets have been reporting, this past Saturday July 17th sixteen Ladies in White, along with other activists, met at the Sanctuary of El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba- perhaps one of the most historic religious sites in Cuba, dedicated to the patron saint of the island, the Virgin of Charity. After attending mass, the dissidents decided to peacefully march, gladiolus at hand and dressed in white, in demand of all the things all the Ladies in White have been demanding for a long time- that dissidents be respected, that their relatives jailed for political motives be released, and freedom for Cuba. While these brave women found some minutes of peace inside the temple, what was waiting for them outside the doors was all the contrary.
According to declarations given to the blog “La Revolucion de los Gladiolos” (literally translated as ‘The Revolution of the Gladiolus’) by the Lady in White Tania Montoya, who was present at the protest, at the moment in which the 16 women stepped out of the church and began walking with their white flowers they were all “hit by paramilitary mobs organized and led by lieutenant colonel Elio of State Security from Santiago de Cuba”. Montoya goes on to say, in the same blog, that the officials first snatched the flowers from their hands. Afterwards came the physical blows and even the ripping of their clothes. “I am all scratched…”, explains Montoya, who along with the other women threw herself on the floor to impede them from taking them jailed. “They did not get tired of hitting us on the face…they pulled our hair, they dragged us, they threw rocks at us…but we remained united in silence, sitting on the floor, firm in our convictions of what we are demanding- freedom for the political prisoners, and freedom for all of Cuba”. Tania Montoya adds that the officials of the dictatorship also used umbrellas (and “anything else they could find”) to beat them. During this savage act, Tania managed to make an emergency phone call to the website “Hablalo Sin Miedo” to leave an urgent message. “We are being victims of a horrible mob attack. I am being hit right now”, she denounced.
Another one of the victims was Belkis Cantillo, the wife of the recently released dissident and member of the group of the 75, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia. Almost instantly as the beating took place, Ferrer began to publish messages of warning on his Twitter account. “Lady in White Belkis Cantillo has been wounded, others have been badly beaten, and two of them detained. Three men have been beaten and detained as well. All of them outside the Sanctuary of El Cobre”, read the message. The wound of Belkis Cantillo consisted of a deep cut on one of her arms produced by a scissor and carried out by one of her aggressors. Various reports, offered by Cantillo herself and others by Ferrer Garcia, denounced that the Lady in White bled “quite a lot” after being cut. Jose Daniel Ferrer also reported on “Hablalo Sin Miedo” that among the three beaten and detained men was Prudencio Villalon who was “left unconscious”. In addition, they confiscated his cell phone and camera. Another message published on Twitter by Ferrer detailed the state of another one of the Ladies in White who suffered the beatings: “Cuban dissident Aime Garces has a cervical injury and requires an orthopedic neck brace, all product of the physical blows”.
The name of the 16 female victims are: Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, Tania Montoya Vázquez, Aimé Garcés Leiva, Doraisa Correoso Pozo, Nelsa Fernández Fonseca, Eunise Madaula Fernández, Vivian Peña Hernández, Carmen del Pilar Alfonso Same, Yuvisleisy Olivares Maturel, Yusileisy Vázquez López, Juana Irene Parada Parada, Yanay Romero Parada, Annia Alegre Pécora, Adriana Núñez Pascual, María Elena Matos Creagh, and Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres.
The fact that the abusive G2 agents did all in their power to snatch any sort of camera or recording device from the hands of the protestors demonstrates that they deeply fear that this information and these images go around the world, as occurred with the images of the beatings of another group of Ladies in White in Havana during the beginning of 2010. The result of that low and violent act in Havana was a wave of international solidarity, accompanied by accusations against the Cuban regime, as well as marches in support of the beaten women. The recent beating in the East of Cuba was just as horrendous as the one from 2010. I strongly believe that the level of human solidarity should be the same. It’d be essential to be able to record these acts, although it’d be even more essential if they just cease altogether.
We were able to contact Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia via phone, though the dissident had very poor telephone signal, impeding a stable connection. However, Ferrer was able to assure that the only good thing about this bloody act was that it had given more strength to the women and that “they will march again this upcoming Sunday”. Let it be clear: these women, these dissidents, have never backed down.