The Cuban dictatorship and the United Nations

This new graphic design by digital artist Rolando Pulido says a lot in just one picture after the UN voted – once again – the Cuban dictatorship to form part of the Human Rights Council of this organization which defines itself as a promoter of rights and freedoms for all people.  It shows dictator Raul Castro surrounded by the images of just some of his victims – Laura Pollan, Wilman Villar Mendoza, Juan Wilfredo Soto, Oswaldo Paya, Harold Cepero and Orlando Zapata Tamayo.  Pictured on the upper left is also an image of Raul Castro preparing an assassination of a young Cuban in the early 60’s.

The Cuban dictatorship and the United Nations

Photos: Ladies in White at the Freedom Tower in Miami

This 20th of May 2013, Cuban Independence Day, Cuban exiles and other members of the community of Miami went to the historic Freedom Tower, where hundreds of Cubans passed through in the 1960’s when they arrived to the United States as refugees, to participate in a chat with 3 Ladies in White: Berta Soler (national representative of the group), Laura Labrada (daughter of Laura Pollan) and Belkis Cantillo (representative of the group in Santiago de Cuba).  It was an event organized by Miami Dade College.

Before the chat, the 3 Ladies in White offered a press conference, in which dissident Guillermo Farinas also took part in.  There, they responded various questions by the press and debated topics such as the constant repression they face in the island for trying to assist Sunday Mass, the fact that former political prisoners of conscience can’t travel outside of the country, the warm welcome on behalf of the Cuban exile community and the current situation of the youth on the island.

Soler called on young Cubans on the island to not leave the country and to stay and fight for it, while she also called on the children and grandchildren of the older exiles to keep supporting the struggle for freedom from wherever they are.

Once the last questions were asked by the press, the 3 activists went up on stage, where Miami Dade College’s president, Eduardo Padron, awaited them.  The audience received them with a standing ovation.

Visiting dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua also present in the audience
Laura Labrada greets audience with “L” for “Libertad” (Freedom)

Cuban-born international pop star Gloria Estefan shared some words about the symbolism of the Freedom Tower and about the importance of the Ladies in White and their peaceful activism in Cuba.  She pointed that “we Cubans are just one people, and nothing will ever change that, ever“.  The singer handed the women a plaque with photos of the march in which thousands of Miami residents took to the streets in support of the Ladies in White on March 25 of 2010. The march was convoked by the Estefans after the women were brutally beat by State Police in Havana on March 17th and was caught on film.  Estefan explained that the police authorities of Miami had confirmed to her that more than 230,000 people took part in the historic march for solidarity down Miami’s emblematic Calle Ocho.

Soler, Labrada and Cantillo were interviewed by Miami-based journalist Maria Elvira Salazar.  They discussed topics such as the acts of state repression against them and other dissidents for defending freedom, the current situation of the everyday Cuban citizen, the motives which led them to take up their struggle, their convictions, and the legacy of Laura Pollan, fallen leader of the group.  Her daughter, Laura Labrada, or “Laurita” as she is known within the Ladies in White, affirmed that the regime had to do with Pollan’s death.  In an emotional statement, she also expressed that her mother’s passing only gave her more strength to march not only for the freedom of all political prisoners, but also the freedom of an entire nation.

Before the event came to an end, Eduardo Padron handed the women the Miami Dade College’s Presidential Medal of Freedom with the words “Guardians of Freedom” engraved.

It was another one of those encounters which reminds Cubans that, despite the geographic distance and the difference of ideas, we are only one people, one nation, that fights for freedom and needs each and every one of its sons and daughters to achieve this goal.

Belkis Cantillo. It’s her second trip outside of Cuba. When she returned the first time, she was brutally beat by the police in Santiago de Cuba.

All photos taken by Raul Garcia and Jennifer Hernandez from “Pedazos de la Isla”.  Feel free to share. 

 

Photos: Ladies in White at the Freedom Tower in Miami

Video of the Ladies in White in Havana, honoring Cuban mothers

Laura Labrada holds up a photo of her mother, Laura Pollan, founder and leader of the Ladies in White

As was recently reported, Ladies in White marched throughout the island this past 12th of May- Mother’s Day.  In Havana, they dedicated their march to Laura Pollan Toledo, leader of the group who died in 2011 in extremely strange and mysterious circumstances.  Her daughter, Laura Labrada Pollan, read some emotional words in her memory.  The women also demanded the immediate release of Sonia Garro Alfonso, Cuban mother and Lady in White who has been behind bars for 1 year and 2 months.

They also sent a message to Berta Soler, representative of the group, thanking her for her tireless work taking the Cuban reality to the world.  Angel Moya Acosta, dissident leader and former political prisoner, published some photos of this activity on his Facebook account.  He also uploaded the following video on his YouTube channel:

Video of the Ladies in White in Havana, honoring Cuban mothers

Ladies in White march in Cuba in honor of Mother’s Day

The Ladies in White marched through the streets of Cuba this Sunday, May 12th, in honor of Mother’s Day, sending out greetings to Cuban women around the world, as well as a special tribute to Laura Pollan Toledo, deceased founder of the group.  It was confirmed that some women suffered reprisals at the hands of the political police, although the majority were able to carry out their weekly march, flowers at hand, to assist Mass and pray for the freedom of all political prisoners.

In Havana, 48 Ladies in White marched down 5th Avenue accompanied by 29 male human rights activists.  They dedicated their walk to all the mothers of the world, according to a tweet published by former political prisoner and dissident leader Angel Moya Acosta (@jangelmoya).

Leticia Ramos Herrería, representative of the group in Matanzas, said that a total of 17 women marched and assisted Mass in the entire province.  She added that in Cardenas, city where she resides, “11 Ladies in White were able to march for 11 blocks after Mass all the way to the Monument of the Mothers, where we deposited 2 bouquets of flowers“.

After that tribute, Herreria explained that the activists began to shout “Long Live Laura Pollan” for various minutes.  In this occasion there were no arrests but there was a constant vigilance by the police.

Meanwhile“, recounted Leticia, “Citizens were congratulating us and wishing us a Happy Mother’s Day when we marched by them.  There was a display of solidarity“.

In the province of Holguin things looked a bit different.  Although 10 Ladies in White managed to arrive at their respective temples, some were arbitrarily arrested by the political police.

Berta Guerrero Segura, representative of the women’s group for the mentioned province, said that all the Ladies in White from Holguin “awoke that morning with their homes surrounded by State Security, under strict vigilance.  The operation had started at dawn“.

Two of the detainees were Eimirce Cespedes Estrada (from Velasco, Holguin) and Yarelys Castaneda Almarales (Holguin).  The latter “was detained together with her 1 year old son who she was carrying in her arms.  Just like that, the political police took them to a dungeon for a number of hours“.

Her husband was also physically assaulted by various agents who applied a headlock on him when he came in defense of his wife.

Guerrero adds that Yolanda Perez Diaz, who is not a Lady in White but a member of the dissident Claridad Movement of Holguin, “was intercepted by agent Adony Charles, of State Security, who told her that she was on his bad side that morning and that he wouldn’t let her come out of her house“.

I am denouncing the constant abuse, the harassment, and the psychological war carried out by State Security against us, the Ladies in White of Holguin.  These violations are constant.  In fact, they have told us that we will never be able to go to church“, said Guerrero Segura.

In Palma Soriano 33 Ladies in White marched and successfully made it to church while in the municipality of Santiago de Cuba another 21 Ladies made it, according to declarations made by Ana Celia Rodriguez to this blog.  Rodriguez was one of the Cubans recently on hunger strike demanding the release of activist Luis Enrique Lozada Igarza.  Her health, like that of the majority of all other former strikers, is still delicate.

The majority of the members of the Ladies in White are mothers and chose to dedicate the symbolic date in honor of so many women who have risked their lives fighting for the freedom of not only their families but also of the entire nation, as is the case of Sonia Garro Alfonso, a Lady in White and Cuban mother who is currently in prison and has been for 1 year and 2 months.

Not even on Mother’s Day does the regime respect these women, carrying out arrests and keeping them under strict vigilance, but they keep praying, they keep speaking out, they keep marching.

In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s a video made by the authors of this blog in 2012, in honor of the Cuban woman:

For more information from Cuba, contact:

Leticia Ramos Herrería- Cell Phone: +52-481-807
Berta Guerrero Segura- Cell Phone: +53-632-110
Ana Celia Rodríguez- Cell Phone: +52-996-531

Ladies in White march in Cuba in honor of Mother’s Day

2 years since the assassination of dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia

This Wednesday, May 8th 2013, marks 2 years since human rights activist Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia died after a beating at the hands of the political police in the city of Santa Clara, Villa Clara province, in Cuba.

Soto was beat by agents on May 5th 2011 in the mentioned city for the simple fact that he was out on the street carrying out a completely peaceful demonstration against the regime.  He was urgently rushed to a hospital where he died three days later, on Mother’s Day.

He was 46 years old and was a proud father.

Members of Cuba’s internal opposition have considered Soto Garcia to be one of the many martyrs in the fight for freedom in the country, and have even used his name to create new pro-democracy groups.

“My friend Juan Wilfredo Soto (#JWS) was assassinated 2 years ago in Cuba for thinking differently”, wrote blogger and Baptist Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart on his Twitter account (@maritovoz), “God will do justice very soon for the assasination of Juan Wilfredo Soto, Oswaldo Paya, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Laura Pollan and many others”, signaled another message.

Meanwhile, dissident GuillermoFariñas wrote on his Twitter account (@chirusa32) that on the second anniversary of Soto’s death, 16 activists were impeded by political police forces to enter the cemetery where the remains of Soto Garcia lay in Santa Clara.  Another 4 were arrested.

Friends of the dissident lovingly referred to Juan Wilfredo Soto as “The Student“.

His death has not been in vain.

2 years since the assassination of dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia

Berta Soler takes Cuba’s truth to Puerto Rico

After Berta Soler’s emotional trip to Miami- the heart of the Cuban exile- she has continued to take the Cuban reality to other places with many exiles, such as New Jersey and now, Puerto Rico.  The following is my translation of a piece by Mario Alegre Barrios, published in one of Puerto Rico’s most famous newspapers, “El Nuevo Dia”.  It is a must-read interview with Soler:

“We cannot wait for the Castros to die”

Berta Soler, president of the Ladies in White, says that a social explosion in Cuba is imminent

By Mario Alegre Barrios / malegre@elnuevodia.com

When we said goodbye to each other two years ago, in Havana, neither of us thought that we would see each other again.  At least I didn’t.

I was wrong.

The face of Berta Soler- cofounder and president of Cuba’s Ladies in White- now has another Light: her stare shines and draws a white smile which contrasts that solemn expression we met at the home of Laura Pollan, the headquarters of this group which, for the last decade, has been one of the fundamental fronts of resistance against the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro.

Visiting Puerto Rico since last Wednesday, today Berta continues the trip she started nearly two months ago and which led her- along with two other Ladies in White- to Brussels to receive the Andrei Sakharov Award which was given to the women by the European Parliament in 2005, acknowledging their struggle for human rights.

In the same way she gave that chat in the summer of 2011, Berta speaks in torrents, as if time was running out to speak about the reality of her country which has been under the longest dictatorship in the world (for more than half a century).

The alleged liberalization of requisites to travel abroad which were announced with much hype by Cuban president Raul Castro a few months ago is nothing other than “cosmetic”- assures Berta- which represents nothing for the lives of the majority of Cubans.  For them, the $100 for a passport is a fortune.

“The Cuban government is trying to employ many strategies so that the International community may think that there are changes in Cuba”, says Berta.  “In Cuba nothing has changed for the good…there are cosmetic changes which are not going to fix the problem.  These changes in travel laws, for example, are not real; they are just selling another image”.

“When they announced the trips”, she adds, “the people were very happy, they thought ‘we are finally going to be able to travel’, when the reality is that virtually no one has the $100 to pay for the passport and if they obtain that amount then it is nearly impossible for them to buy the Visa, a plane ticket, and even less, to have enough money to pay for their stay outside the country.  That’s why this change, in reality, is just a big lie”.

This woman- a microbiologist by profession who had to stop practicing her career because she opposed the dictatorship- explains that when she and her fellow Ladies asked to leave the country to pick up the Sakharov Award, “the government, which knew we would continue denouncing the situation abroad, only had two alternatives: let us travel, which was bad for them, and not let us, which would have been even worse because there would be absolutely no justifications”.

“For us this trip has been very important because we have taken Cuba’s reality to the world, firsthand, and have denounced the government which is asphyxiated, desperate in its attempt to make the world think that they are implementing positive changes”.

Free violence

Cofounder of the Ladies in White alongside Laura Pollan- who died on October 14th of 2011- Berta explains that this group was born in 2003 to “go to church to pray for the freedom of our loved ones” after that same year the government jailed 74 men and 1 woman for political motives.  The prisoners were finally released in 2011 after the Catholic Church’s mediation and the collaboration of the Spanish government.

However, since 2008, the group’s leadership became even more inclusive and took up the cause of defending all peaceful political prisoners, “and for those that weren’t political, we also demand that the government respect their fundamental rights”.

“Violence against us has increased”, explains Berta, referring to the actions carried out by the brigades of State Security, “they punch us, they strip our clothes off in public, they deport us from the city during dawn hours, they tie us, drag us through the streets and even carry out gestures as if they are going to shoot us with guns”.

The list continues: they get spit on, are under vigilance for 24 hours, are kept in buses for more than 2 days without permission to go to the bathroom, and when they absolutely cannot hold it anymore they are allowed to do so but only next to the vehicle, under the stare of the police agents who mock them.

“This happens in all the provinces of Cuba… In December 2011 we created delegations from Guantanamo to Pinar del Rio (East to West).  We are already more than 230 Ladies in White”, she says, “With our resistance we have won over Fifth Avenue (Havana) and they can’t tolerate that.  Nearly every Sunday they physically assault us, just for marching in silence with a flower at hand”.

With the death of Laura Pollan, the group’s presence did not waver and her memory turned into inspiration for those who display solidarity with the Ladies in White.

“We are continuing her legacy.  Laura was a dignified, bold and smart woman who achieved the release of our loved ones who, in reality cannot be classified as ‘freed’ because they still have an extra penal license and their causes are still open”, she explains.  “The government has always done all in its power to train women and infiltrate our movement.  That doesn’t worry us because we are peaceful and transparent women”.

A shield

In regards to the Sajarov Award, Berta says that “we knew the day would come where we would be in Brussels” to receive it.  She adds that this international acknowledgment “is a shield, a protection for our struggle and also a compromise with the European Parliament”.

Perhaps like never before, now the struggle seems to be reaching its climax with a regime that is significantly eroded, and a people whose patience is at very critical level.

Berta sighs when she assures that “we cannot wait for the Castros to die, our struggle cannot wait for that”.

“There are people who last 100 years or more”, she points out, “Now there is a growing group of dissidents, many of them who are young and organized… we are waiting for the social explosion, something which is about to happen at any moment.  We have to be ready to guide those people and remove the Castros in order to have a new Cuba where democracy is respected, where human rights are respected.  People are already expressing themselves publicly on the streets, on the buses, in the hospitals, in the market, because the Cuban government has nothing to offer, just hunger and repression”.

With this same idea, Berta adds that “for more than 50 years the government has only handed out fear and repression… it is important that, now, we have been able to come out to ask the International community for moral and spiritual support, and that the heads of States take up a hard line approach with the Cuban government”.

“We blame the Castro regime, signaling it as a violator of human rights”, she insists.  “When everyone outside of Cuba raises their voices, the Cuban government will be unarmed”.

The chat then takes a turn towards the subject of the political situation in Venezuela and what it means for Cuba.

“For the Cuban government, it is very worrying.  Chavez gave barrels of oil to Cuba which did not go to the people”, she comments.  “At this moment, Cuba is very afraid because the help from Venezuela could collapse at any moment. Maduro may not give Cuba the same resources which Chavez gave them.  That is one factor that may affect the regime.  That is what we want: that the Cuban government be asphyxiated”.

– Are you happy?

“No, I am not, because there is no freedom in my country.  Because I live in a country without rights, where my children are kicked out of school because they are the sons and daughters of a counter-revolutionary”.

– Do you feel hate?

“Not at all, there is only love in my heart… I do not hate anyone”.
– Not even the Castro brothers?

“No, I do not hate them.  I only pray that real justice condemns them as should be.  That’s why I don’t want them to die; I hope they live to see the change in Cuba.  That would be their punishment.  God is the one who knows when to take life away, and I pray He doesn’t take their life just yet.  God has not taken Fidel Castro because he has no place for him, while the devil must think ‘he can’t come here either because he’ll take my spot away’”.

Once again, her laughter.  She seems to be full of certainties now.

We end our chat.

We hug.  She says she hopes we see each other again some day.

“When Cuba is free”, she adds.

We say goodbye

I don’t know why, but something tells me that this time it’s forever.

See the orginal interview, in Spanish, here.

Berta Soler takes Cuba’s truth to Puerto Rico

Berta Soler in Miami: For the Freedom of Cuba (Video)

DSCN7330

Here is a video-report with images of some of the events in which Berta Soler, representative of the Ladies in White, took part in the city of Miami, “the capital of the Cuban exile”.

The events in this video include the press conference Soler held at the University of Miami, an emotional encounter with ex political prisoners from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s in “La Casa del Preso” (‘The House of the Prisoner’), a vigil in honor of Laura Pollan, a tribute to Orlando Zapata Tamayo and a moving Mass at the emblematic Ermita Shrine.

Berta Soler passed through Miami inspiring and re-inspiring many, letting them know that the struggle for freedom is very much alive and that their are no Cubans from here, nor Cubans from over there…just Cubans.

Berta Soler in Miami: For the Freedom of Cuba (Video)