Death threats, nocturnal attacks, persecution and confrontations against human rights activists of different pro-freedom groups. Those are the scenes being reported from Velasco, Holguin. In all of these cases, government officials- retired and active- have been signaled as the culprits.
This April 1st, Yonart Rodriguez Avila, the representative of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy in the Eastern region of the country, denounced that while he was with his mother, Lady in White Mariblanca Avila Exposito, in their home, the retired Rapid Response Brigade official Miguel Leyva Leyva showed up to offend and threaten them.
“Leyva Leyva said that he is the owner of this area and that he would destroy our home and anything we build“, said Yonart, explaining that the repressor had threatened to destroy a small fence they had been building around the house a few days before.
“I want to mention that this individual is very dangerous“, said the dissident, “He dedicates himself to provoke activists out on the street. If he walks near us on the street he bumps into us on purpose, he spits towards us, and he asks us what we are looking at“.
Leyva has participated in acts of repudiation and beatings against dissidents in Velacsco, as well as other regions of Holguin.
George Luis Leyva Ferras, of the Cuban Youth Movement and the Eastern Democratic Alliance, reported that on March 31st the dissident Julio Perez Zaldivar, of the Republican Party of Cuba, received a death threat by an active functionary of the Rapid Response Brigades named Mario Naranjo Sanchez.
“Naranjo Sanchez told this activist that he was carrying a gun, which the political police gave him and authorized him to use as he wished, and that on his list to kill was Perez Zaldivar, my wife Daylin Guerrero and me [Leyva Ferras]“.
The agent also told Leyva Ferras that “all the karate experts in Velasco are at his disposition so that, when he decided, they attack us“.
Meanwhile, on April 1st Miguel Leyva, Mario Naranjo, Fernando Molina and Ruben Velazquez (whom all operate together) were seen walking through the streets of Velasco carrying knives, according to neighbors.
“A neighbor who is my friend confirmed this to me“, explained Ferras, “and the same neighbor heard them say that they were going to stab me to death. The repressors are saying this everyday“.
The homes of Mariblanca Avila and Eirnice Cespedes, respectively, have also been stoned during the night recently.
Also, on the night of April 2nd, activist Raul Rodriguez Leyva, of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) was assaulted by an unidentified person who tried to stab him. Rodriguez managed to escape the attack, dodging the stabs, but the knife sliced the dissident’s shirt, according to Yonart Rodriguez. This happened on 18th Street in the Varona neighborhood of Velasco.
José Daniel Ferrer García, leader of UNPACU, denounced the same situation on his Twitter account (@jdanielferrer), explaining that those nocturnal attacks “are ordered by the regime’s political police”.
Rodriguez Avila described it as “an attempt on the activist’s life“.
Among the recently threatened and affected dissidents are Mariblanca Avila Expositio, Yonart Rodriguez Avila, Julio Perez Zaldivar Raul Rodriguez Leyva, Eirnice Cespedes Estrada, George Luis Leyva Ferras and Daylin Guerreron, as well as the two small children of the latter- Jason (3 years old) and Jessica (1). Within this group there were members of the Ladies in White, the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, the Republican Party of Cuba, the Patriotic Union of Cuba and the Eastern Democratic Alliance.
Some of these activists have turned to state organisms to denounce their cases but the functionaries have ignored their claims.
“We want to send an alert to the world about these situations, and not only what is happening to us, but what is happening with all activists in Cuba“, said Yonart Rodriguez Avila, “we say no to violence, no to death, no to abuses and we say no to beatings“.
“Anything that happens to us is the fault of the regime and its repressors… they are capable of doing anything against us“.
During afternoon hours of February 26th, in Havana, a building located directly across the street from the Central Train Station collapsed, killing one 15 year old boy who was trapped in the rubble, and injuring another two, according to “Hablemos Press” . The scene turned even more chaotic when various political police agents who were present lashed out against various people who were trying to figure out the whereabouts of their loved ones. Also witnessing the events were dissidents Yonart Rodríguez Ávila and Denis Pino Basulto, both from the Eastern region of the country, who were arrested for displaying solidarity with the victims’ relatives.
Rodriguez Avila described his arrest in the “Foro Juvenil Cubano“, the blog of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, explaining that police agents covered the mouth of one of the relatives of the deceased and applied martial arts locks on others, keeping them from getting close to the scene of the disaster. It was then that the activists started to shout out slogans against the regime and in solidarity with the victims, which led to their arbitrary arrests.
Denis Pino told this blog that “a police agent applied a headlock on me, pushed down on my neck and strangled me. They dragged me, and delivered physical blows on my ribs and my head. They asphyxiated me until the point that I passed out“. The dissident was later taken to a nearby hospital but, once he awoke, he refused to be treated there for fear that they would attempt on his life.
“I left the hospital, I just walked out through a hallway“, he said.
Upon knowing that Yonart Rodriguez was still detained in the Dragones Unit of Havana, Pino Basulto set out towards that unit, protesting outside along with Yonart’s mother, the Lady in White Mariblanca Avila Exposito, also from Velasco, Holguin.
“We were protesting there, demanding the release of Yonart“, explained Denis, “but they kept him there until the following day, on February 27th, and I was detained again for a few hours“.
Mariblanca Avila added that February 26th was her son’s 32nd birthday, which he spent in a dungeon.
On his part, Denis points out that he emerged from his arrest with “lots of pain in my throat, pain in my ribs and on my arms. It was a very violent arrest. We were treated like animals“.
“I want the world to know what is happening in Cuba. After 50 years of dictatorship, the buildings are still collapsing“, expressed Pino Basulto, also highlighting the absurd fact that activists were arrested for displaying solidarity with a family at the time of their profound pain and desperation. “This regime has increased repression against human rights activists. We are demanding that this repression, which is constant, come to an end“.
Denis Pino Basulto has been victim of police violence on numerous occasions due to his pro-freedom activism within various groups such as the Pedro Luis Boitel Movement, the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) and Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID). One of the most violent cases against this young dissident occurred on January 8th, 2012, when he was savagely beat by police officials in Holguin province, who covered his face with a plastic bag.
Various sources have indicated that politically-driven arrests have upped on the island so far during this year. The independent news agency based in Havana, “Hablemos Press“, for instance, documented 471 arrests of activists throughout Cuba only in the month of February, the shortest month of the year.
“They have told us that they are going to pour gasoline on us and are going to light fire to the house and burn us all alive, including the underage children”, said the representative of the Ladies in White in the province of Holguin, Berta Guerrero Segura, in reference to the mobs organized by State Security and the political police, which are made up by agents of the mentioned military groups and of other government entities. These same mobs surrounded her home and carried out an act of repudiation during half of Thursday, October 4th and the majority of Friday, October 5th.
The Ladies in White in this Eastern province have been receiving threats and arrests not only on Sundays when they try to assist Catholic Mass, but daily, when they try to buy food or other products in the local market, when they try to carry out meetings to talk about personal issues or when they try to visit relatives or other activists, whether it be within the same province of Holguin or other regions.
“The person usually leading and organizing these actions is State Security agent Rafael Chapman”, detailed Guerrero Segura, “and they have been cutting our phone lines… many of us are being arrested, while we can’t confirm the fate of others because our phones don’t work”.
The police operations against these women on Friday the 5th consisted in a mob made up by various uniformed soldiers surrounding Guerrero’s home, as well as two police vehicles stationed outside, keeping a tight vigilance and impeding any other woman or activist from coming close to the headquarters of the group in that province, located in the 26th of July neighborhood.
In regards to the threats that they would be burned alive, Berta Guerrero does not doubt for a second that the agents would actually turn to that, considering that they have been excessively violent in the past, like when they raided the home of Lady in White Glisedis Pina Gonzalez (also in Holguin) this past 18th of August 2012, where they beat all those inside, including some underage children who were also injured with incoming rocks being hurled at them by the government mobs. The regime agents have also been frequently arresting the elderly aged Lady in White Rosaida Gonzalez Escalona, despite her frail health. They have also mercilessly beaten other members of the group to the point of unconsciousness or heavy bruises. Harassments are also common.
In one particular case, one of these Ladies in White, 22 year old Eleiny Villamonte Cardozo, recounts that she was arrested upon trying to arrive to the national headquarters of the group in Havana this past 23rd of September to celebrate the day of the Virgin of Mercy. The young activist explained that she was confined, along with other women, to the Havana police unit known as “El Vivac” and they were then deported towards Holguin.
“When they had us en route to Holguin, in a police unit of Ciego de Avila, they actually gave us food- and good food- something which never happens in the dungeons. I was confused by this but then I noticed they were recording us. Their tactic was to record us eating good, to say that we were never treated bad, that they take care of us”, said Villamonte.
She added that “when we finally arrived to Holguin on Tuesday the 25th, Douglas, the chief of Confrontation, gave orders to lock us up in cells. They put me in a dungeon with a camera pointing right at me, and a Ministry of the Interior official told me that I was being accused of ‘attempting against the government’ and that I should mentally prepare myself because long days were coming up ahead, seeing as I would be sentenced, according to him”.
Eleiny was moved to another unit in the same province, where another unidentified official (also with a MININT uniform) told her that he was going to lock her up with a common prisoner “who had swallowed a barbed wire, to test if I really was not afraid”. In fact, he told her that “I was his woman for that day”.
Another Lady in White which accompanied her- Danay Mendiola– was told by the same official that “he was going to tear off her pants and underwear to see if she really was tough and did not have fear”.
These threats of sexual violation are common against women who simply try to march throughout the streets of Cuba dressed in white, with the mission of assisting Mass in their respective churches to pray for the freedom of all political prisoners throughout the island.
Similarly, in the same province but in the municipality of Velasco, the Lady in White Mariblanca Avila Exposito denounces that she too lives under a constant “state of harassment”, as she is always being watched and kept from leaving her own home.
In addition, her son Yonart Rodriguez Avila– an activist from the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy- and his wife Yisela Lorenzo Matos are constantly persecuted as well by political police agents. They are often detained without explanations, as occurred this past 1st of October when the three of them were waiting to board a bus in Velasco and were detained for a number of hours.
“After that arrest, they told us that we could not move freely and that we also couldn’t leave our home or the municipality of Velasco”, said Yonart Rodriguez, who adds that in the park adjacent to his house, there are always soldiers stationed there, keeping a watch over each and every one of his movements.
Lady in White was beaten along with her elderly father, accused of “public disorder” and confined to punishment cells
In Velazco, Holguin the Lady in White Mariblanca Avila Exposito was arrested on Wednesday, March 21st- 5 days prior to the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI to the island. Her arrest took place as she was on her way to a clinic to pick up some medications with her elderly father, whom also suffered the violence. Her son, the dissident Yonart Rodriguez Avila had declared his mother as “disappeared”, considering that the communist functionaries refused to give him any information on her whereabouts or medical condition.
Mariblanca explained that her arrest occurred when “two police officials intercepted me and began to violently beat me. I was scratched all over my arms and my father fell on the floor“. The activist narrates that various neighbors joined in solidarity and began to shout against the henchmen who were beating the dissidents, screaming “assassins” and “abusers“.
Avila Exposito was forcefully introduced into a Operational Guard Jeep which took her to the police unit of Velazco. Her father was left behind. Once in the unit, the prison officials decided to transfer the dissident to the #6 Attention Unit. Upon arriving at this Unit, the guards left Mariblanca under surveillance in the jeep under the scorching sun and with music blasting at full volume. Once again, the functionaries decided to send Mariblanca to another unit, one known as “La Primera” [‘The First’]. There were over 40 police officials waiting for her. “They pushed me off the vehicle and took me to an office where I was interrogated by an officer known as Juan Miguel“, narrated Avila. This same official tried to blackmail and threaten the activist, even telling her that he was going to snatch the necklaces she was wearing. In addition, agent Juan Miguel confiscated Exposito’s cell phone.
For various hours, Mariblanca was confined to a small cell which consisted of a “horrible urine smell“. But the Lady in White was transferred yet again, this time to the Instructional Unit of Pedernales under charges of “public disorder”. A police guard told Mariblanca: “You are too old to be starting these kinds of situations. We are going to sentence you to 30 years of prison“. The activist replied: “I am prepared to defend my country“. Due to her response, she was confined to another dungeon which had no light and no running water. It was then that Exposito started suffering a hyperglycemia crisis after being kept in inhumane conditions and carrying out a hunger strike as a form of protest against her unjust incarceration. She maintained that protest for 5 days.
Exposito narrated that on Friday, March 25th, she started to bleed from an ulcer which she suffers from due to her gastritis. “I felt very bad…on Sunday I bled again. But other dissidents who were also jailed there started to scream at the police guards to bring me medical assistance“, said the activist. These jailed dissidents were from all over Eastern Cuba- Banes, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, and Bayamo, and they were all victims of the same wave of repression due to the papal visit. According to Mariblanca, a young man who she could not identify started to shout “Zapata Lives” and “Down with the dictatorship“. A guard approached his cell and “punched him and then took him to a punishment dungeon“.
The Lady in White was released on the night of Tuesday, March 27th, when Pope Benedict was in Havana. Before the guards left her near her house, they threatened her, affirming that she would be processed under “public disorder”, something which she paid no attention to.
Exposito said she felt physically exhausted and weak, “with dizziness and having had lost several pounds“. However, the faith which this Cuban harbors has not been shattered. “God has given me the strength to continue this struggle, which is a struggle for humanity. We are going to continue out on the streets, going to church, and we will not stop doing what we do. Even with the torture they subjected me to, I will not stay in my house. I am going to recuperate myself and I will continue demanding human rights for all Cubans“, she affirmed.
Throughout this week this blog will publish declarations from numerous Cuban dissidents and activists in regards to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island which will take place this upcoming Monday, March 26th. The question they are being asked is: Regardless if one is in favor or against the visit of the Pope, it is certain that the eyes of the world will be upon Cuba during those three days. What message would you send to the world and to Pope Benedict XVI?
Response fromYonart Rodríguez Ávila , activist from the Eastern Democratic Alliance and Active Cuban Youth United (JACU)
“I would tell him [Pope Benedict XVI] that he see the reality of Cuba, the precarious situations which everyday Cubans live through. And that right now, the level of repression against civil society and the internal opposition is dramatically increasing. There are police operations throughout countless neighborhoods. If he really is God’s representative on earth, or if he is the maximum Catholic authority, I ask him to intercede for the Ladies in White, the dissidents, and all people who want a positive change for their families and their country so that repression against them comes to an end”.
Yonart Rodriguez Avila tends to be victim of police repression in Cuba due to her activism in favor of human rights throughout the streets of Velazco, Holguin, his area of residence. Recently, his mother, the Lady in White Mariblanca Avila Exposito was violently arrested and disappeared by the forces of the Cuban regime. The only “crime” which this family has committed is to demand immediate freedom for all Cubans.
The young Cuban dissident and human rights activist Yonart Rodriguez Avila denounced, this past Wednesday 21st of March, that his mother, Lady in White Mariblanca Avila Exposito, had been victim of a “very violent arrest” carried out by a number of Cuban political police agents in her hometown of Velazco, Holguin.
Yonart was not able to witness the arrest because he has been out of town for various days. However, he explains that his mother managed to call him during the aggressions. “They still hadn’t taken her cell phone“, says Rodriguez, “she told me that it was very violent, that they pushed and shoved her into the police vehicle. She was then able to call me briefly from the police unit she was being held in“, but her conversation was not too clear because she had said that the agents were going to take her to another unit but that she wasn’t sure when or which one.
On Thursday, March 22nd there was still no word of the Lady in White, except that she was still detained and her whereabouts were unknown. “We do not know where she is“, affirms Yonart, “when we are detained together we are usually taken to the frontier unit of Gibara, where they beat us violently” but up to this moment there has not been confirmation as to where the activist is being held and therefore is considered “missing“.
This case has occurred as numerous Cuban activists have detailed how a growing wave of repression is sweeping across the island during the past few days as Pope Benedict’s visit nears. In the Cuban East, dissidents have denounced that they are being surrounded and threatened with prison or physical blows. In certain cases, communist functionaries have told dissidents that they would not be allowed to travel to the mass which the Pope will offer on Monday, March 26th.
In the case of Mariblanca Avila Exposito, she has been victim of constant vigilance and serious threats of violence by State Security agents, political police officers and members of the Rapid Response Brigades for a series of months. Her life, as much as her son’s, is under threat because of their civic political activism in favor of freedom for all Cubans.
The Lady in White Mariblanca Ávila Expósito and her son Yonart Rodríguez Ávila– also a dissident and a member of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy and the Eastern Democratic Alliance- are denouncing the Rapid Response Brigade member Alexei Perez Alvarez for being an “assassin“, in addition to constantly harassing and attacking them and many other dissidents in the town of Velasco, Holguin.
According to Yonart Rodriguez, the oppressor Alexei Perez was previously a police official in the city of Havana but left his position after killing another police official. “He used a weapon to assassinate another police official and, apparently, he was removed from his position, or at least he disappeared for a while“, explained Rodriguez, “but now he is back and in Velasco, as part of the Rapid Response Brigades“- a group of people who are under the orders of the Castro regime, carrying out beatings and arrests of peaceful dissidents and carrying out mob repudiation attacks. In addition to his new tasks, Perez Alvarez also maintains constant surveillance over the home of the dissident family.
Yonart affirms that “Alexei is a person who doesn’t sleep. He is outside of our house 24 hours a day. If we step out to try and buy absolutely anything, he is there. He drives a taxi bicycle, puts on shades, and begins to follow us, shouting threats and obscene words at us”.
Mariblanca Expósito, who has been victim of countless beatings and arrests during her activities alongside the Ladies in White, reiterated her son’s declarations, adding that “on Sunday, January 14th, I was heading to church when Alexei began to follow me. I was only by the corner of my block when he cut me off and told me ‘you better not go to church, because I am going to make you disappear. Remember that you only have one son, and he will end up without his mother, or you will end up without a son‘”.
Expósito added that various neighbors who work in the nearby vegetable stand had witnessed the entire scene. These same neighbors began to shout against Alexei Perez. “They were saying ‘Alexei, leave Mariblanca alone, she is only walking down the street and has not done anything to anyone‘”, recounted the dissident.
“I simply do not understand what his official job is supposed to be, because he supposedly works as chief of security in a local clinic, but we all know that even there he has had many problems”, explains Exposito, “in fact, a woman recently died because of Alexei. He simply did not want to call and ambulance in time”.
Yonart Avila adds that Alexei Alvarez is also an alcoholic, “as are all other members of the Rapid Response Brigades“, denounces the young dissident. “They station themselves in the park in front of my house, start drinking alcohol and keep tight vigilance over each and every activist which comes in and out of my house…many of these dissidents have been arrested under the provocations of this man (Alvarez)“.
“I want the world to know that Alexei Perez Alvarez is a henchman, he is a dangerous assassin and his cowardice makes him even more dangerous”, stated Rodríguez Ávila.
Both dissidents- mother and son- describe the repressive situation which they live as something asphyxiating, but they have assured that they will not stop taking to the streets and carrying out dissident activities. And precisely because of this posture, the violent actions have continued against them. In the case of Yonart, on that same Sunday 14th he was arrested at 5 AM as he was trying to travel to a farm where he had planned to work. A few hours later, he was released and then detained again in a park of Velasco, where the dissident affirms that “various other youths in the park actually interceded for me…some of them even ended up arrested as well“.
But the repression extends to the entire family, not just his mother and him. Mariblanca Avila narrates that when Laura Pollan died on October 14th, “we left my house and two police officials began to corner us and push us. I was with my 87 year old father and he was also pushed, and he fell over a horse drawn carriage and onto the street. In addition, our home is constantly stoned by agents, constantly surrounded, and more“, denounced the activist.
In the dissident household also lives Yonart’s very young daughter, who is only 4 years of age. Both dissidents have expressed worry for the life of the young child, considering that the house is constantly under attacks at the hands of the dictatorship.
When it comes to a totalitarian dictatorship like the one which rules over Cuba, a citizens’ freedom of movement presents a serious threat, especially when it is a public dissident who is trying to travel throughout his own country. The young dissident Yonart Rodriguez Avila, resident of Velasco, Holguin, has proven this various times, the most recent case occurring this past Saturday 12th of November. On that day, Avila was on his way to the home of his brother in Holguin, not even with plans to carry any sort of opposition activity, yet he realized he was being followed by various State Security agents and a political police official.
“When I was very near the home of my brother, the police officer ran up to me and rapidly arrested me“, explains Yonart to this blog. He was not able to carry out his plans and later spent the entire day with his house surrounded. But before being deported back home, Yonart was taken to the local police unit. “Once there, the officials told me just like this: ‘there will be no trip for you‘”.
What came next were the typical and common threats, warning Yonart know that they have been watching every one of his activities. “They mentioned the recent tribute to our compatriot Laura Pollan Toledo“, carried out on November 4th, where 7 activists took part and held a moment of silence, lit the night sky with candles, and prayed for the soul of the fallen, but never forgotten, Lady in White.
According to the dissident, as of the moment that activity was held “they have taken reprisals against each dissident which participated“. Avila pointed out that one of the opposition members who was at the event and who has been suffering constant threats and harassment since then is Rolando Lopez.
“Lopez runs a barber shop on his own initiative and is a very religious man“, and an active member of his local church explains Rodriguez Avila. “State Security threatened to confiscate his small business and that they would speak to his pastor, ordering him to expel him from the temple“.
Avila narrates that Lopez responded to the agents without fear, declaring that “his church accepts everyone, without caring about ideology“, to which the government officials responded that they did not care. “They told him that if he continued meeting with ‘people like us’ he would be expelled from the church, despite whatever he says“, denounces Yonart.
Yonart Rodriguez Avila is the representative of the Republican Impact Delegation (IR) in the zone of Velasco, provincial coordinator of United Cuban Active Youth (JACU) in Holguin, and also member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance. He is the son of the brave Lady in White Mariblanca Avila Exposito who suffered a brutal beating a few weeks ago in the home of Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo in Havana. Some dissidents were able to publish the following video which exposes the physical aftermath of Exposito after the aggressions:
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!