Alarming and Rising Violence Against Cuban Resistance: Punches, Sticks, Raids, and Sexual Harassment

In the municipality of Moa, in the province of Holguin, 3 Cuban regime henchmen carried out various physical blows against the Lady in White Annie Sarrion Romero to the point that they broke two of her front teeth this past Tuesday February 7th, according to her husband, the coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Moa, Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria.

The brutal assault occurred when Sarrion was on her way to her job on Tuesday morning.  She was confronted by the group of men, under the direction of political police chief in that area, Leandro Morgado, and they all began to threaten her for her dissident activities.  Amid the provocations, Sarrion stood firm and non-violent. The agents, however, responded with violence.  Two of the “men” who punched her to the point of losing two teeth were Víctor Laurencio Blanco y Neuris Basulto.

According to Vazquez Osoria, Blanco and Basulto are waiting to travel to Venezuela to carry out medical missions in that country.  “In the case of Victor, I know that he has already traveled twice to Venezuela, and now they all have their papers ready to travel once more“, denounced the activist.  He adds that “pay is so poor here in Cuba that they have to do these things” to be accepted and approved by the regime to travel.

It is precisely against this corruption and violence which Osoria and Romero  peacefully protest against, and for this reason, they are beaten, arrested, and suffer other sorts of harassment.  For example, this same week, on Monday February 6th (the day before Annie was beaten), Juan Carlos Vazquez explains that along with his wife and other dissidents of the UNPACU they began to put up anti-government signs outside their home.  “In our signs we wrote slogans like ‘just salaries for all workers’, ‘milk for the kids’, ‘freedom for all political prisoners’, and ‘down with hunger and misery’, in addition to putting up the UNPACU flag‘”, says Osoria.  Quickly, during the afternoon, a mob repudiation attack was organized by the regime outside the house.

It was at this moment that the communist mobs raided the house.  “Someone who goes by the title of Lieutenant Colonel Andres broke down our door, began to hit us, and even broke my cellphone“, denounced the dissident.  The mobs then began to drag all the dissidents outside out of the house-  Annie Sarrion Romero, Maritza Cardosa Romero (both Ladies in White), Mario Antonio Borges, and Geraldo Sarrion (son-in-law of Osoria).

My wife was dragged, as we all were, and they beat her.  They hit me over the head with sticks.  And then we were all detained and taken to the local National Revolutionary Police Unit”, said Osoria.

Meanwhile, the national coordinator of UNPACU- the former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia- denounced that on Tuesday, agents of the dictatorship also arrested 5 activists of that pro-democracy group.  Those arrested were Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres, Yanisel Figueredo Valdés,  Kenya Leguin (Ladies in White), Julio Cesar Vega Santisteban and Elieser Consuegra Velázquez.  “The men were released during afternoon hours, but up to this moment (Wednesday) the women have not yet been released”, explained Ferrer, who also classified this violence against the Ladies in White and the Cuban Resistance in general as an emergency

“These women- the Ladies in White- are victims of a merciless and constant harassment; not only are they constantly and arbitrarily detained, not only are they beaten, but they are also confined to filthy prison cells in police units and, once there, police agents sexually harass them”, denounced the former prisoner of conscience.  During the first weeks of 2012 countless cases of sexual abuse against the Ladies in White and other female dissidents have been reported.  “They have inappropriately and forcefully touched these women while they search their bodies for phones, cameras, and camera memory cards.  Not only do they suffer these searches of the entire body, but they are also touched and immobilized”. 

Ferrer cites a specific example, when recently “a political police official brought a lover of his and started to have sex next to the cell where Lady in White Karina Quintana was being held, and later another agent arrived and started to make perverted sexual gestures at the Lady in White“.  Another case was when “during the weekend of February 3rd to the 5th, on Saturday night, 2 agents of the police in the 3rd Unit of Santiago de Cuba- known as “the motorized unit”- walked into the cell where Lady in White Liudmilla Cedeno Martinez (wife of Guillermo Cobas, coordinator of UNPACU in El Caney) was detained and started to also carry out perverted gestures as they stared at the dissident“.

In addition, Ferrer pointed out examples in other parts of Cuba, like in Placetas (central Cuba) where women from the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights were recently arrested with much violence, and also sexual harassment.  Among the women were Yris Tamara Aguilera, Idania Yanez and Damaris Moya– whom all confirmed that some were grabbed in the breasts or touched in other places by regime agents.  Another case, as Ferrer cites, was against (also Lady in White) Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, in Havana.  Fonseca is also victim of constant surveillance, physical aggression, and sexual harassment by communist henchmen.  “It is not enough for the dictatorship to beat dissidents“, denounces Ferrer, “We know very well that tyrannies sustain themselves in power through very low and degrading acts, as the political police is doing here in Cuba.  But it is very worrying and alarming, due to the magnitude of these actions against peaceful and brave women“.

Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria echoed the same denouncement, adding that “these acts of vandalism and aggression of the Castro regime are being done in order to plant terror in everyday people, so that they will not join the struggle for freedom.  But people are noticing, because there is far too much necessity- the streets are not clean, there are no good schools for our children, hundreds of kids can’t even go to school, and many of those who do go without shoes because the streets are so bad that their shoes are torn“.

And we are fighting against all of this, and that is why they violently attack us“, declares the dissident.

Jose Daniel Ferrer and Juan Carlos Vazquez are just some of the voices informing the world about the alarming and incrementing level of violence against dissidents in Cuba.  We must listen.

As Pope Benedict’s Visit to Cuba Nears, Another Sunday of Repression on the Island

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.