“The repression against the Ladies in White has not ceased, nor have the operations to impede them from participating in Sunday Mass in Holguin”, said from that same city Lady in White and independent journalist Caridad Caballero Barista, one of the detainees, as tends to occur, this past Sunday April 29th, 2012.
Caballero Batista and her husband, Esteban Sandez Suarez were detained during morning hours when they were on their way to the Jesus Christ Redeemer of Men Church in the city of Holguin. Some other activists/Ladies who suffered arrests at the hands of the political police were Isabel Pena Torres, Adisnida Cruz, and Marco Antonio Lima in Holguin and Berta Guerrero Segura in the municipality of Cacocun. The latter was arrested along with her 2 year old daughter. She was simply walking down a sidewalk, on her way to church, dressed in white and carrying her small child when police agents intercepted her.
In the case of Caballero and Sandez Suarez, both were physically assaulted by police officials who then shoved them into police vehicles and took them to the instructional unit known as Pedernales, where they are usually taken when detained. The activist explained that they were placed in “pestilent cells which are completely sealed off and where there is barely enough ventilation to breath…it is horrible“.
Due to these horrid conditions in which the Lady in White and her husband are regularly confined to, as well as all the physical blows they receive and all the hunger strikes they carry out as a form of protest, both have started to suffer from serious pains and complications in the kidneys.
Meanwhile, Caballero adds that “in other regions of the country there were police operations which impeded various women from other municipalities, such as Banes and Velasco, from traveling to the city of Holguin to march together“. In addition, during the morning of Saturday April 28th, the Lady in White Miladis Pena was intercepted, detained and deported by the police “despite the fact that she was not even traveling to Holguin“.
Other cases of violence against Ladies in White were reported throughout the island, as was the case in Santiago de Cuba where 7 women were violently arrested as they were on their way to the El Cobre Sanctuary. They were then abandoned in desolate and remote areas, far from their homes. Among these women was Belkis Cantillo Ramirez, wife of the recently released opposition leader Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia. Despite the repression and the aggressive measures, whether it be in Holguin or in Santiago de Cuba or other provinces, some women were able to surpass police cordons and assist Sunday Mass.
Strong censorship still remains, cellphones blocked
In her case, Caridad Caballero adds that “it has been more than 1 month since I do not have telephone service“. The dissident explains that this has been part of yet another method of censorship being practice by the Cuban regime so that she cannot communicate with fellow activists. Up to this moment, her phone “does not receive and cannot dial any national calls and cannot send or receive any text messages from within the country. Only a few international calls are allowed to be received“.
In fact, Caballero has had various family issues in Guantanamo (her native province) during the past few weeks- one uncle passed away, another uncle is in critical condition, and her elderly grandmother is sick- and yet, the activist has not been able to establish concrete communication with them. Her house phone is also blocked.
Because of this, Caballero and Sandez recently went to the central office of CUBACEL (State phone company) in Holguin and present their complaints and demands. However, they did not receive a response and their phones are still not working properly.
The Cuban regime has tried at all costs to impede Cuban dissidents from communicating with one another, from traveling freely within their own country, and from demanding their rights out on the streets. But despite all of this, according to Caballero Batista, “as long as we are alive, we will continue resisting“.
In Cuba, this past Palm Sunday (April 1st) was marked by the accustomed police repression against the Ladies in White throughout the island who were simply trying to assist Mass in their respective churches.
The former political prisoner of conscience and the national coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, published a series of messages on Twitter during the morning of that same Sunday detailing that a number of Ladies in White who were on their way to the El Cobre Sanctuary in Santiago de Cuba were detained by the political police. Meanwhile, the women who were not detained were stripped from their cell phones and white clothes.
In response to the confiscation of their belongings, 6 Ladies in White were able to direct themselves to the Confrontation Unit of Santiago de Cuba and carried out a non-violent protest, demanding that their clothes and phones be returned.
‘Marti Noticias‘ offered more details about these events, publishing an article in which they quote two of these Ladies in White who suffered reprisals. According to the report, the Lady in White Ana Celia Rodriguez Torres said that Dorky, the chief agent of the Confrontation Unit, told the women that “since he did not feel like it”, he was not going to give them back their clothes during that same day.
In the same article, another Lady in White, Aurora Martin Calderon, informed that all the paths to the El Cobre Sanctuary in Santiago de Cuba were militarized by the forces of the Cuban regime. Because of this, only 7 women made it Mass in that temple.
Meanwhile, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia also offered declarations to the ‘Hablalo sin Miedo‘ website, explaining that because of the state repression which impeded dissidents from arriving to Santiago de Cuba, about “a dozen” Ladies in White decided to assist mass in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Palma Soriano. They were able to make it inside the church without being detained. However, a bus full of police agents ready to repress them was stationed outside the church. Fortunately, the women were not detained after Mass but they were under surveillance all along the way back home.
Also in Eastern Cuba, but in the city of Holguin, Lady in White Caridad Caballero Batista was violently arrested along with her husband Esteban Sandez Suarez when they both tried to make it to the Jesus Christ Redeemer of Men Church. It was the fifteenth consecutive Sunday in which they were kept from assisting church.
Batista told this blog that “from early on in the morning, a police vehicle with numerous police officials inside was circling my house, as were various State Security motorcycles. They were trying to intimidate us to not step out“, but the couple left their home regardless. They were rapidly detained and taken to the Instructional Unit of Pedernales, where they were kept in humid and hermetically sealed punishment cells until 11:30 AM. “They do things like this is as a form of blackmail“, explains Caballero, “because our church begins its Mass at 9 AM and it concludes at 11 AM“.
Batista added that she could not communicate with other Ladies in White in that same city, such as Isabel Pena, due to the fact that many telephone lines continue to be blocked throughout the island.
Caridad Caballero also added that she and her husband are both suffering from strong kidney pains due to “so much time without drinking water during our hunger and thirst strikes” as well as because of the countless aggressions against them and the many times they have been left under the scorching sun as a method of torture.
In Banes, Holguin, the Ladies in white Marta Diaz Rondon and Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez were under tight surveillance ever since Saturday, March 31st. Although they were able to make it to church on Palm Sunday, they were surrounded in their homes upon returning. Police agents did not allow them to leave during the remainder of the day.
This has been a partial summary of the repressive actions committed against the Ladies in White on the first of April, Palm Sunday. For more information directly from Cuba, please contact:
Just weeks before Pope Benedict’s visit to Cuba in March, another Sunday on the island- February 5th 2012- was marked by an excessive level of violence on behalf of the dictatorship against the peaceful Resistance, for simply trying to attend church.
In the city of Holguin, 5 Ladies in White were brutally arrested around 9 in the morning as they tried to reach the Jesus Christ Redeemer of Men Church. The women arrested were Caridad Caballero Batista (Holguín), Marta Díaz Rondon (Banes), Isabel Peña Torres (Holguín), Berta Guerrero Segura (Cacocum) and Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez (Banes). The 5 head out from the home of Caridad Caballero, despite the fact that the entire neighborhood had been surrounded by agents of the political police and the Rapid Response Brigades for various days. Caballero Batista explained that the arrest occurred “just 4 blocks from my house” and consisted of a “very violent operation“.
“There were various police vehicles, motorcycles, uniformed officials and more, all under the direction of the State Security officials Douglas Torres Pupo“, said Caballero. The agent Torres Pupo was one of the henchmen who would constantly attack Reina Luisa Tamayo (mother of the fallen Orlando Zapata) in Banes and other areas of Eastern Cuba when she would try to march towards her son’s tomb or participate in any other dissident activities. In addition, the independent journalist and Lady in White points out that “the operation consisted of female and male police officers, officials from the Ministry of the Interior, and they all applied immobilization headlocks on us, they shoved us, and even kicked us“.
After the brutality, the 5 women were violently introduced into police vehicles and then taken to the Instructional Unit of Pedernales, better known by those who pass through it as “Everyone sings“. As this arrest was occurring, in another part of Holguin the Lady in White Adis Nidia Cruz was also aggressively detained as she tried to make it to church. Cruz was also taken to Pedernales.
The total of 6 Ladies were confined to torture cells, which, according to Caballero, are “completely sealed off, with bad odor, and full of insects, roaches, and rats“. During this temporary imprisonment, the women were threatened on multiple occasions. During one of the threats, recounts Caballero, the Cuban Counter Intelligence official Eduardo Rivas Noreiga- a very corpulent and tall person- “aggressively threatened us; he told us that what we were doing of trying to go to church was not going to be allowed by them, to which we responded that we are Christians and we will continue, and if they do not let us go to church, well then we will continue to see each other in Pedernales. Noriega told us that our choice would bring us serious consequences for our lives“.
Another agent responsible for the violent operation and the threats was Major Roilan Cruz Oliva, also one of the main culprits of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010. Caridad Caballero denounces that “Roilan was the main assassin who sent Zapata to the prison known as ‘I lost the key‘, and he had Zapata’s life in his hands there, and he chose to let him die. This man is the one who took Zapata to his death and he was also part of the operation this Sunday, February 5th“.
Despite these violations, 10 Ladies in White from Holguin successfully assisted mass in the Jesus Christ Redeemer of Men Church- that’s 6 more than last Sunday when only 4 were able to make it. Meanwhile, Caballero Batista highlighted that 20 human rights activists from Holguin marched to the local State Security headquarters, located in front of the San Jose Park, and demanded the freedom of the 6 women behind held. “After their protests, they began to release us at around 3 in the afternoon“, said Caballero.
Also released was Franklin Peregrino del Toro, husband of Berta Guerrero, who had been arrested since Friday, February 3rd, when he was on his way to his mother-in-law’s house in Cacocum to pick up his young daughter. It was around 9 pm when the arrest occurred.
“State Security arrested Franklin with the intent of producing fear in Berta Guerrero so she would change her mind and not participate in activities as a Lady in White, and so she’d return home” , denounced Batista, “but despite this degrading method, Berta did not give in to the manipulation and participated with us in the end, something which hurt the regime very much“.
Caridad Caballero Batista, Marta Díaz Rondon, Isabel Peña Torres, Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez, Adis Nidia Cruz, Berta Guerrero Segura and Franklin Peregrino del Toro are just some of the names of brave dissidents who are violently attacked by the dictatorship Sunday after Sunday (as well as any other day). Despite all this, they also represent the persistence of the Cuban opposition- that Resistance which stands firm and unbreakable in the face of so many macabre methods.
In Guantanamo, 11 Ladies in White were able to make it to church, despite a constant vigilance. Another 20 Ladies in White assisted mass in the Santuary of El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba. 16 women were arrested as they tried to get to that mass, however, according to the Twitter account of Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia (@jdanielferrer). Among those arrested, according to his Twitter, were Oria Casanova who was “violently arrested, dragged, and beaten by 4 oppressive agents” and Liudmilla Cedeno who was victim of “sexual harassment in the cell where she was being held“. Ferrer Garcia denounced, also through his Twitter, “that is how the henchmen who sustain the Castro brothers are- they beat, sexually assault, and harass defensless women in Cuba“.
In Cuba, the Ladies in White and other pro-democracy activists will continue marching, whether Pope Benedict publicly speaks out for them or not.
Arrested and beaten more than four times during just the first month of 2012 and constantly threatened and surrounded, Caridad Caballero Batista has once again been victim of repressive acts at the hands of the Cuban dictatorship this past Sunday, January 29th, when she was violently detained as she was trying to make it to the Jesus Redeemer of Men Church in the city of Holguin, to pray for the immediate freedom of Cuba. But Caballero Batista is not the only one in her family to suffer the repression- her young son Eric and her husband Esteban Sande Suarez are also harassed because of the family’s dissident posture. The latter- Esteban- was also arrested this past Sunday, and so were other Ladies in White and activists, all for the same reason.
Caballero narrates that the arrests occurred at 8 in the morning. The first Ladies in White- besides her- to be arrested were Zuleidys Pérez Velázquez , Adis Nidia Cruz Hebreo, Ana María Aguilera Paneque, Berta Guerrero Seguro and Isabel Peña Torres. All the gladiolus flowers they were carrying were snatched from their hands by State Security agents and destroyed.
After being violently pushed into police vehicles, the women were taken, as is custom, to the Instructional Unit known as Pedernales, located in the outskirts of Holguin. In the case of Adis Nidia Cruz, from Pedernales she was taken to the police unit of Buenaventura, Berta Guerrero was taken to a cell in the police unit of the Rafael Freire municipality, while Ana Maria Paneque was confined to a cell in the Frontiers Unit of Gibara. It was also reported that Lady in White Maritza Cardoza Romero was arrested in Moa.
As soon as the arrests took place, a group of dissident men who belong to diverse opposition organizations like the Liberal Party of Cuba, the Pedro Luis Boitel Movement and the Eastern Democratic Alliance marched all the way to the Pedernales Unit to demand the freedom of the Ladies in White. “These men were also arrested“, explains Caballero Batista. Their names are Juan Carlos Verdecía Domínguez, Luis Jaime Merino, Félix Tomas Zapata, Esteban Sande Suarez, and Marco Antonio Lima. “In the case of Esteban (my husband) he was put in a torture cell of Pedernales, where the beds are really just concrete slabs and located about 6 feet ontop. Jaime Merido was handcuffed inside the cop vehicle and the agents shoved a dirty rag into his mouse so he would not talk”, denounced Caballero.
The Lady in White adds that on the following day, Monday the 30th, the guards of Pedernales announced their morning inspection, where prisoners must recognize their presence. “Esteban refused to participate because he had not committed a single crime and, besides, he is not a soldier to be paying tribute to those same people who oppress us“, she explains, “for that reason, they threw him down from his bed and onto the floor. The same happened with Juan Carlos Verdecia, for the same reason“. Both men still have bruises and sharp pains due to the aggression.
Once again, citizen solidarity reigns
All of the women who had been arrested were released on Monday at around 3 in the afternoon. Berta Guerrero, Lady in White and wife of dissident Franklin Peregrino del Toro, was abandoned in a remote area of the Rafael Freire municipality, even though her house is located in the town of Cacocum, miles away. Without any money or a purse, Guerrero tried using her cellphone to communicate with her husband, but she did not have enough credit. It was then that, according to Caballero Batista, “local Cubans- the real Cubans- noticed this. One man approached her and offered to take her back home“. Adis Nidia, who was similarly abandoned in another area, counted with the solidarity of a man who paid her bus ticket so she could return home.
In the case of Caridad Caballero and Esteban Sande, they were left outside Pedernales and had to walk and find their own ways to get back home.
Though these dissidents were kept in sealed-off cells and under constant threats, Caballero highlights that 4 other Ladies in White did successfully make it to church. “These women were Romelia Piña González, Gisely González, Nelia Molina Leyva and Gloria Piña González. They were able to participate in mass and prayed for the freedom of all political prisoners and for the freedom of all those detained, as well as all Cubans”.
Son of dissident couple who suffers from medical issues is also victim of Castro-sponsored violence
Caridad and Esteban denounced that Eric Sande, their 19 year old son, is also victim of the tyranny’s repression, despite his young age and the fact that he suffers from a medical condition which affects his brain. “It is a condition where, sometimes, he does not receive enough oxygen in his brain“, explains his mother, “when this happens to him, his blood pressure drops and he often even loses consciousness“. Not even taking this into consideration, the regime’s authorities arrested Eric during the week of January 20th and he was victim of numerous physical abuses. His blood pressure dropped very low during this time as he was being held in inhumane conditions.
“When we were arrested this Sunday 29th, my house was surrounded by State Security, despite the fact that Esteban and I were not even there. An official from the Confrontation Unit, whose last name is Martinez Leon, came here“, denounced Caridad, “and aggressively threatened my son, telling him that he would have to pay for his parents activism“.
In addition, Batista points out that Eric- who frequently attends Sunday mass- is preparing himself for his confirmation. Some local authorities have even gone as far as to harass him in church and trying to impede that he take the necessary classes required for this religious service.
“We are holding State Security responsible for what could happen to our son“, declares Batista.
The Cuban dictatorship never attacks dissidents only. Instead, they also go after their families, whether they be young or old, men or women. Accepting these consequences and holding tight to their compromise with freedom for Cuba, Caridad Caballero Batsita and Esteban Sande Suarez have affirmed that they will continue with their acts of Resistance. In fact, when they were released from their dungeons this past weekend, Caballero says that she looked her oppressors in the eyes and assured them that “it looks like we will see each other again next Sunday because we are not going to stop going to church, we will not stop being Ladies in White, and we will continue with our activities“.
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, CaridadCaballero, 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.
Another report on one of the arrests of Cuban dissidents while they tried to pay tribute to Laura Pollan
Marta Diaz Rondon, activist from the Eastern Democratic Alliance and Vice-President of the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights, was one of the dissidents detained after news of Laura Pollan’s death began circulating throughout the island by word of mouth on the night of October 14th. “Since the day before, prior to confirming the death of Laura, my home was already surrounded by State Security agents; we were completely under vigilance“, narrates the resistance member. Just like many other dissident throughout the island attempted, Rondon decided to travel to Havana that night, but was quickly impeded from doing so by the regime’s representatives. “We told the uniformed officials that we were just going to participate in activities where we would pray for the soul of Laura Pollan, but they told us that the only praying we would do if we continued would be from a jail cell“.
The threats did not stop there and no other dissident from the area was allowed in or out of the home, and Marta was not an exception. The strict police cord around her home blocked her each time. “That specific operation began on the 14th at around 9 PM and it lasted until the afternoon hours of the 16th“, when the brave dissident was able to surpass the human wall and make it to a local church in Banes, although “under a very strict vigilance“. Once in the temple, Marta prayed for Laura and deposited flowers before a statue of the Virgin of Charity. “After mass, I head out to the local Mariana Grajales Park, where I once again deposited flowers before a statue of this patriotic woman (Grajales), in the name of our sister Laura who was like Mariana Grajales for us, because she always took to the street, she was brave, and very dignified“. Grajales was the mother of Cuban independence fighter Antonio Maceo, and she herself was very active in the independence movement.
After that moment in the park, the dissident William Ramayo Tamayo and Rondon agreed to head out to the Banes terminal, where they would catch transportation to the city of Holguin, where various fellow freedom fighters had suffered arrests and other acts of violence, among them Caridad Caballero Batista and Isabel Pena Torres. “We wanted to join our detained brothers and sisters in solidarity“, explains Rondon, “but upon boarding a ‘public’ vehicle and barely driving out of Banes, government agents ordered the car to pull over, and that is when they detained William and I“. The arrest was carried out by an official named Evelio and another political police officer. Diaz Rondon tells that, “I was brutally pulled out of the car, which was in fact full of passengers. I began to shout anti-government slogans and I also denounced that Laura had been murdered by the government. But before we were taken out of the car, I turned to the passengers and explained to them that I was not a terrorist, that I am just peacefully fighting for Cuba’s freedom“. Upon seeing that neither dissident would remain quiet, the agents delivered a blow to Marta’s mouth which led William to protest in her defense, but the physical aggression continued until they broke Marta’s lips. “During these blows, I looked at agent Evelio and told him that he was just another henchman for Castro and that I was not afraid of him“.
Tamayo and Rondon were taken aboard a government vehicle to a detention center in Banes, where they remained for over three hours. “They continued to threaten us there“, the dissident explains, “they told us that we were not allowed to leave Banes. They are under the impression that they are the rulers around here and that they can make us go to our houses whenever they feel like it, but my house is not a prison. I leave whenever I want to, and I am not afraid of the arrests. I am declaring that I will continue taking to the street, because those streets belong to the people, and I am free“.
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!