The repressive tactics of the Cuban dictatorship include forcefully impeding peaceful activities from taking place, even when they are to be held in the homes of dissidents. On Wednesday, January 18th, numerous arrests occurred throughout the island with the intent of preventing vigils and reunions. Here are three of the testimonies:
Every Wednesday activist and Lady in White Caridad Caballero Bastista unites dissidents from nearby areas in her home in the city of Holguin to pray and inform each other of the most recent happenings in Cuba. The Cuban Political Police, although aware that these are completely peaceful meetings, tend to use violence against them or extreme vigilance. This Wednesday, January 18th, they utilized both repressive tactics.
It was 5 am when two dissidents- Juan Sacaría Verdecía Torres and Edilberto Sartorio– were violently detained by the political police while traveling to Batista’s home, who also added that “Later on, around 8:30 am Juan Carlos Mendoza was detained” when he was on his way to her house to make presence at the vigil.
“They didn’t let me leave my house,” explained Mendoza, “and I told them that my house was not a jail cell. And I started shouting ‘Down with the Castro’ and ‘Down with Communism’, when out of nowhere three policemen detained me.” During the minutes that followed, Batista’s home, as well as that of other dissidents, was surrounded by uniformed regime officials.
At 4pm, Caridad Caballero, Franklin Peregrino del Toro, Isabel Peña Torres and Juan Carlos Mendoza’s wife were walking towards the police unit where it was suspected that the three activists were being held, when they were forcibly stopped by a mob organized by the dictatorship.
“We were at the San Jose Park when they attacked us,” narrates Caballero, describing the group as a “mob of female members of the Ministry of the Interior and State Security“. From there, the activists were pushed inside the police cars.
Caballero Batista explains that the agents applied “a martial arts immobilization headlock on me all the way to the Instructional Unit of Pedernales” where the harassment continued. “They were two very tall policemen that applied the headlock on me, and they both twisted my hands…I felt incredible pain, I thought they were breaking my hands.”
The Lady in White explains that in addition to the beating, a group of guards wanted to undress her. “I told them that the only way they could take off my close was ripping it because I wasn’t going to let them…I held on to my clothes and they were not able to take it off from me.”
It was around 9 pm when Caridad Caballero was released along with Isabel Peña, and later Juan Carlos Mendoza. The three dissidents were left in a deserted and obscure zone nearby the Pedernales Unit. “It was extremely cold, since we had been detained in sealed-off cells, and now we were exposed to the air,” narrated Caballero. The dissidents had to find transportation to return to their homes, but it was very difficult since they had been left at a remote area.
At Sara Marta Fonseca‘s home in Rio Verde, Havana, a weekly vigil is also held under the slogan “Total freedom without exile for all political prisoners,” where prayers were said for Wilman Villar Mendoza (deceased on the 19th), Ivonne Malleza, Ignacion Martinez and Isabel Alvarez (the three were released on the 20th).
As expected, Fonseca narrates that “the political police organized an oppressive operation nearby my house to prevent activists from arriving to the vigil“. Amid the vigilance, the participants carried on with the vigil. Around 1 pm, Sara Marta left her house, since she was going to attend the Ladies in White’s literary tea (weekly meeting) in Calle Neptuno (at the house of the fallen Laura Pollan). “I left my house because it is not a prison, and when we have to participate in an activity we are going to do so no matter what,” reaffirmed Fonseca.
Amid the threats, Fonseca continued to her destination but was quickly surrounded by the political police only 4 blocks away from her house. Aware that she was going to be detained, Fonseca had prepared a Twitter message denouncing the events. The dissident tells of how a state agent showed extreme worry and demanded she give him her cellphone when he noticed she had sent a Twitter message. The message went through telling the world in real time: “Castro police is arresting me. LONG LIVE FREE CUBA, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, AND DEMOCRACY! DOWN WITH THE DICTATORSHIP!“.
Agents of the political police and two members of the Revolutionary National Police (PNR) forcibly took her, pushing her inside a police vehicle and taking her to the Police Unit in Santiago de las Vegas.
Even though Sara Marta Fonseca is a woman who suffers from 2 disk hernias on her back, the oppressive political police agents, still treated her aggressively. At the Police Unit she was detained in a sealed-off and extremely humid cell which had a concrete slab which was supposed to be a bed. Fonseca hurt a finger on her right hand while she tried climbing “the bed- or piece of concrete- since it was located in a high place“. At the same time, these conditions worsened her back pains.
The Lady in White was kept that way until 10 pm when she was released and left in a dark, remote area far away from her home. She had to walk home by herself.
On that same January 18th, Yris Tamara Aguilera was arrested in Placetas, Santa Clara when she was on her way to Idania Yanez Contreras’s house, where she was going to meet with various activists members of the Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement- a pro-freedom organization which she heads. In addition to meeting, they were planning a vigil as well.
Yris Aguilera is still suffering from a physical blow to the back of her head which she received at the hands of State Security a few months ago. Her husband, Jorge Luis Garcia Antunez, explains that the arrest was very violent and she was pushed inside of a police car and detained for many hours. Xiomara Jimenez and Giseira Espinosa were also detained when both women went to “show solidarity with Yris“.
During the arrest, Antunez denounces, “Yris was threatened by an officer called Yuniesky, who threatened with raping her in the cell. Aside from this being a danger, we consider this an offense against these brave women who have chosen to take to the streets to demand freedom in Cuba“. The identification number on the tag of agent Yuniesky is 43348.
All the dissidents whose testimonies are recorded here coincided that they will not stop carrying out their activities regardless of the consequences until there is a free Cuba.