Laura Pollan: A Cuban Repressed by the Regime, a Cuban Loved by her Compatriots

In memory and honor of Laura Pollan

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.

Floral arrangements of Katia Sonia, shattered on the floor

 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.

At the entrance of Versailles Restaurant, reads 'Laura Pollan, thank you for courageousness. To die for the homeland is to live eternally, your memory will be eternal"

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!

Also at Versailles Restaurant. Reads "Zapata Lives and Laura Pollan Lives"
Laura Pollan: A Cuban Repressed by the Regime, a Cuban Loved by her Compatriots

Katia Sonia Retells her Most Recent Arrest

The activist, blogger, and Lady in White, Katia Sonia Martin Veliz, was recently detained while she was in the process of walking to the home of Laura Pollan (spokesperson for the Ladies in White) to take part in a peaceful protest in commemoration of the 8th anniversary of the Black Spring of 2003. Her most recent post on her excellent blog, Kubasepia, narrates her experience in the dark, rotten, and humid cells of the Castro-communist detention centers.

Her post:

History of a Kidnapping

At dawn on March 18 I was kidnapped along with Aimé Cabrales Aguilar at the corner of Calzada de Infanta and San Tomas a few meters from my house and on a public street, from a bus with a veneer of tourism in which women in the uniform of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) came, along with two Chinese-make Geely cars with private license plates with State Security agents who wore civilian clothes, easily identified by their cruel faces and well-fed bodies.

At four in the morning and after a struggle between these women and us, we were then attacked as if we were two highly dangerous women and taken in the Geely to the Cerro police station at Infanta and Amenidad, where they led us to the back and put us in separate rooms. Within seconds an individual appeared whose rank I couldn’t make out because we had a little altercation and he immediately took my cell phone and then took me from there, in a police car escorted by a policewoman in uniform, who had my phone and an arrest warrant that said “Counterrevolutionary,” although it wasn’t written in this way but as “Counter revolutionary,” an adjective they use every day and don’t even know how to write.

Then began a long journey until we reached the Santa Fe station where I was rejected by the officers on duty when they were shown the warrant, and in a matter of minutes they decided to take me to the station at 7th and 62nd station in the municipality of Playa, better known as the Fifth Station (La Quinta), where they searched me thoroughly taking my wallet and all my belongings including my clothes.

An official from police criminal investigation (CIM) tells me, from a distance, that I have to change clothes and approaches with a gray uniform with white numbers, my only words were, when the guy from CIM came I told him he should put it on, and then I saw how their faces started to change and his response was only, “No, relax,” and they showed me to cell 7 where I remained from 6:30 AM on March 18 to 10:00 PM on the 19th, without taking any food or water as a protest for the arbitrariness of the detention. The total was 42 hours.

In that same humid cell there were three women dressed in gray, with uncombed hair, gloomy faces, and smoking uncontrollably. Yenima was there for embezzlement and had been in that same place for 39 filthy days. They could not prove her embezzlement case, so they are now trying to get her through falsifying signatures, but once again have no proof. She works for CIMEX corporation and must be either 39 or 40 years old. She has two sons, one who is 16 and the younger one who is 3, both which she has not been able to see during this whole time.

Betty is another young woman, a hair-dresser with a 10-year-old daughter who kept a bag of medicine in her house for a friend. It turns out, the contents were actually prescribed medications which can be used as drugs. She turned it in to the police and now awaits preventive prison.

Yuvisnavi, the other young 30-year-old, was out partying with her husband when she had some drinks and began filling ill. They quickly went to the nearest clinic and had an argument with some police officials. The cops beat both of them savagely. She still had the scars on her body to prove it, as well as a missing tooth, the result of a punch. She threw a soda can at the cop’s back and the couple now awaits a fiscal petition which will accuse them of “attempt on someone’s life”.

Upon noticing that I was wearing different clothes than they were, they began to ask me thousands of questions at the same time. We entered a lengthy conversation. They already knew who the Ladies in White were, and I then explained to them a bit about the organization I belong to, the Cuban Democratic and Independent Party, in addition to our purpose and the activities we carry out.

During the afternoon hours they took me out of the cell so that doctor could examine me and fill out a brief clinical record for me. After a while, the prison guard took me to a small interrogation room where a State Security official, claiming to be called Vladimir, waited for me. I was there with that arrogant man with a harsh voice for 2 and a half hours. Throughout the entire time, however, I displayed a vibe of indifference, for I knew I was going to be kept there anyway. He then told me that I would be re-educated there, among other threats. He jotted down a few things about my life on various pages which made up my file.

Later, I was returned to my cell and entered into another room where they took various photos of me — one with a ruler measuring my height, one of the right side of my face, the left side, with my glasses, without them, barefoot, with my feet together, etc. They also took my digital fingerprints and filled out a sheet with my general physical details.

Since my cell was at the entrance of the waiting room, I could see that there was another woman dressed in White. It was Tania Maldonado, also a Lady in White detained under the same conditions as me, as she left her house with Sarah Marta Fonseca. They were separated in the same fashion I was separated from Aime, who I did not know where she was.

I felt a bit relieved that there was someone I knew there. She was also taken to cell # 7 and also chose to cease eating or drinking liquids. For this reason we were constantly being visited by the Chiefs and Officials of the Unit, as well as doctors and CIM agents. Going on strike, as they call it, is something which worries them deeply, in addition to the fact that we kept shouting that we were peaceful women who were being kept there against our will. We also told them that whatever happened to us from that moment on during our detention was completely the responsibility of the Cuban government and all the repressive organs of State Security. They would constantly take our blood pressure, and did the same to Hector Julio Negrin Cedeno who was also detained a few blocks from Laura’s house and who assumed the same rebellious posture.

Late that night, official Tamayo from section 21, and Tomas both entered my cell and I had yet another interrogation for a few hours. I kept my same posture, with the same indifference I displayed before, but this time I had a very bad headache due to the lack of food. They asked me why I did not eat then and I responded by saying that in addition to protesting, not even dogs would eat the food they offered. The menu was always white rice, boiled potato, and something else which I could not decipher. It was some sort of omelette which would cause heartburn in the women who ate it, and there was no medicine available afterwards to calm the sensation.

As was expected, both these agents touched upon the subject of the CID, that party which robs them from sleep. They mentioned Huber Matos and his organization inside the island. Among the threats I received was one that, after they finish off the Ladies in White, they were going to go after the CID to end it. They stated that they knew I had been in the province of Pinar del Rio and that everything was prepared so my arrest would take place in that area.

According to Tamayo, he told his friends from Pinar del Rio to leave me alone because he would easily catch me here. Did he think that for a moment I was going to hide? He talked to me about the CID in general — about when the elections were, etc. He gave off the impression that he was very misinformed and wanted to gather more information, but he failed. He then said that the CID was a lie and that Huber Matos was asking for money throughout all of the United States. I ask myself, if it’s all such a lie then why do they constantly oppress and harass each one of its members? This group is here to stay, I would repeat them over and over again. And they are scared of that.

They returned me to my cell and re-appeared shortly thereafter with some crackers, bread, soda bottles, and Dipirona tablets. To ease my headache, I got a pill out of the bottle after checking that it was sealed. A doctor then appeared to examine me again. They then took away all the other things they gave me to eat because I did not touch any of it. The agents asked the doctor if he had any injection they could put on my tongue or an electro-shock that would change my thoughts. I didn’t even pay attention, and I only responded by asking the doctor if he had two of each because the guard would need it as well.

Back in my cell, where I could not shower, I threw a a mat on the floor and both Tania and I laid down. We actually fell asleep quickly, thank God. I thought it would not be so easy to get some rest since the smell of urine was so strong, as was the presence of mosquitoes, the sound of officials slamming doors all night, and a constant ringing which would go off every time someone walked through the main gate, whether they were prisoners or police officials. There were also constant arguments between the authorities. They used very obscene and vulgar words against each other, and despite the fact that they speak the same language, they still cannot manage to understand each other.

They had an elderly lady in custody, but she was not being kept in a cell. Instead, she slept on a stone bench. She had been taken by the DTI (Department of Technical Investigation), together with her son who was also in a cell and carrying out a strike. She was a very corpulent woman who arrived to the jail at the same time as me. When I left, she was still there, and as I stepped out she came close to me and said, “Tomorrow, when you go to Church, pray to Saint Rita for me and my son”. I never knew why they were there. They didn’t give us time to talk.

During the next morning the parade of the authorities continued. They kept checking our state of health, and the food somewhat improved. However, they could not convince us to eat. An official later handed me a bucket of water (for showering) and some clothes which my husband had brought me, which reassured me that people did know about my kidnapping. I shared my water with Tania, who also had to brush her teeth with my tooth brush, which is something so personal. We also shared my towel. There was no other option. A penal instructor then took me out of my cell to once again write down declarations from me. This time, she wanted to know where I was headed when I was detained and why I was not eating.

During that same time another woman, who must have been around 40 years of age, was taken into my cell. At first glance anyone could tell, based on her face and her way of talking, that was someone who had some sort of mental instability. She was there because an employee from the Aedes Aegipty Campaign pushed her elderly mother inside her house, so she (the lady in the cell) got into a fight with the employee to defend her mother. During the fight, both women ended up hurt. Immediately, the police took her to the station and they want to prosecute her under “attempt at someone’s life”. The public health worker was free from any accusations.

Once again, that night I was taken out of my cell and taken to the interrogation room. An official from Villa Marista was waiting for me. He asked me various questions, among them about my hunger strike. Then agent Vladimir appeared, who also asked me about why I was not eating. It was all a matter of 15 minutes, and when I returned to my cell I would say that 2 minutes passed and the head guard approached me and said, “Get your stuff. You’re leaving.”

They handed me my belongings, I made sure I was not missing anything, and that I had left everything in order. I put on my earrings, other jewelry, and put my lip-stick on. Agent Vladimir gave us a release letter to sign and cop car # 716 was waiting for us with an escort police officer who was holding both Tania and my ID cards. The officer also had orders to drop us off at the door of our respective homes, and she only gave me my ID card when I stepped out of the car.

Katia Sonia Retells her Most Recent Arrest