Hurricane Sandy: Amid Government Inefficiency, the Opposition Responds

Category 2 Hurricane Sandy left behind a scene of destruction throughout all of Eastern Cuba, tearing down countless homes and costing the lives of at least 11 people during the morning hours of October 26th.

A few days later, the Cuban regime has responded with inefficiency in regards to the situation, as well as with the accustomed repression against human rights defenders. However, these same activists and the everyday people have been helping neighbors who have suffered hard hits, considering that the regime’s personnel have paid no attention to the suffering.

In Santiago de Cuba, one of the most affected provinces has “grave damages“, according to former political prisoner and leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia.

“Sandy has passed through a region that was already very poor, which was already damaged by so many years of the regime’s inefficiency, and it has left even more destruction of homes, farms, stores, churches and other establishments”, explained Ferrer, “it has left more hunger, there is no electricity and there are lots of necessities which Cubans already have to begin with. The entire region has nearly been left without any services. There is no drinkable water and there is destruction everywhere and people are trying to resolve with what they have”.

The dissident leader points out that during the storm, one activist on UNPACU in Palma Soriano sheltered about 30 people in his home. Meanwhile, the website of the pro-democracy Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID) reported that various activists from this group have been assisting affected families, helping them rebuild what they can.

“Civil Defense has done nothing to help the affected”, affirmed Ferrer García. This declaration is one seconded as well by Lady in White and member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, Marta Diaz Rondon, from Banes, Holguin.

Here, the people are criticizing the government because they have neither protected or helped them”, said Diaz, “the people have told us- dissidents- to please take pictures and make their situations public. The entire town was misinformed before the hurricane passed. The state media said that there were only going to be some rains and winds, but at no moment did they mention a hurricane passing through Banes, while no one was evacuated”.

Many citizens witnessed before their eyes as their homes crashed down while they rushed to take shelter wherever they could.

The home of Diaz Rondon was penetrated by water brought my intense rains, while parts of her roof (made of zinc) fell. Meanwhile, in the same municipality of Banes but in another neighborhood, Lady in White Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez suffered the total destruction of her home.

Ojeda Suarez recounts that “the storm ripped off my roof, it tore down my back wall and all of my children’s furniture were soaked. The little bit of things I had have been destroyed, but I was not the only one. Two houses next to mine also fell to the ground. My brother-in-law also lost his roof and a wall. The situation in Banes is disastrous”.

The activist explained that the majority of the food she had was destroyed and that the people “are hungry” and “desperate“. She adds that before and after the storm, functionaries of the Communist Party have walked by her neighborhood but at no point in time did they stop by her house to ask if she needed any sort of help.

The situation in Banes, when it comes to food, is critical. People cannot find food. We are cooking with rocks, and with pieces of debris from our homes”, added Marta Diaz Rondon.

Photo courtesty of Leticia Ramos
Photo courtesy of Leticia Ramos

In his part, activist Walter Cañete Cruz said that in the Los Pinos neighborhood of Banes, his home and that of many other citizens were also reduced to rubble, and that “the authorities have not appeared to try and fix the problems“.

The effects of the hurricane were not only felt in the Eastern region of the country, but also in some central areas, especially in the Northern coastal town of Playa Larga, in Cardenas, Matanzas, where Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herreria recounted that “the sea level rose and lots of water penetrated countless homes, and no officials from Civil Defense showed up to help us“.

In the absence of functionaries, many citizens turned to Ramos Herreria and other activists so that they would help them.

A number of us activists went to the local Communist Party headquarters…after hours that we had presented our complaints there, some firefighters showed up in Playa Larga to save some lives”, declared Ramos, “in fact, the fire truck could not even enter the area because there was so much water. You couldn’t tell the street apart from the ocean. Many people told those firefighters that they had left them there abandoned”.

The accustomed repression against other human rights activists during the weekend was not withheld. On the same day of the hurricane, three activists from the Eastern Democratic Alliance were arrested by the political police in Guantanamo when they were helping various people who evacuated themselves in a community known as El Caribe, according to Yanniel Cisneros. The detainees were Jesus Manuel Pena (father and son) and Isael Poveda Silva. In addition, a number of detentions of UNPACU members were also reported, while in Antilla, Lady in White Mildred Noemi Sanchez Infante said a group of dissidents had been persecuted and arrested, among them Amada Pileta, Miguel Santana and Ángel Batista Vega.

From Havana, Berta Soler said that the Ladies in White dedicated their Sunday march this 28th of October not only to all political prisoners of conscience but also to the victims of the hurricane. “Despite the weather conditions which ravaged the Eastern region, and despite the repression of the government, 51 of us Ladies in White were able to march down Havana’s 5th Avenue, demanding the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and to respect the human rights of all citizens, but also in solidarity with all our Eastern brothers and sisters who have suffered, and continue suffering, lack of water, food, and attention from the government“.

Soler highlighted that although the political police detained a number of women throughout the East on that same day, 8 of them were able to march to church in Guantanamo and 2 in Holguin. Meanwhile, in Matanzas 16 women were able to carry out their emblematic and peaceful march.

The Cuban regime truly did not prepare the people for these conditions in the East, but the Ladies in White are keeping our minds positive and we are offering all our solidarity to the Eastern people. In any way we can help, we will do so”, assured Soler, who added that more than 15 Ladies in White suffered partial or total losses of their homes.

The promoters of the Citizen Demand for Another Cuba initiative have published various addresses on their blog where aid can be sent to directly assist the people affected by the hurricane.

For more information from Cuba:

Marta Diaz Rondon – Cell Phone: +5352-771-639 // Twitter: @MartaDiazRondon

Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia- Cell Phone: +5353-146-740// Twitter: @jdanielferrer

Berta Soler- Cell Phone: +5352-906-820

Regime Attacks Dissidents But Cannot Impede Tributes to Laura Pollan

Laura Pollan’s daughter Laura Labrada (left) and Berta Soler. October 14th, 2012.

This Sunday 14th of October, the year anniversary of the death of Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White, operations unleashed by the police forces of the Cuban regime produced numerous arrests throughout the island, but such actions were not able to impede the activities carried out in honor of Pollan.

A wide range of tributes were reported in the country since Berta Soler, representative of the Ladies in White, announced a week of activities last October 7th.

For example, that same day women carried out their traditional march along Havana’s 5th Avenue and screamed slogans like “Laura Pollan Lives“, while dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello managed to arrange a daily Mass throughout the week in the San Juan Bosco Church in Havana in memory of the fallen leader of the Ladies in White.  In the eastern town of Manzanillo, where Laura was born, various human rights activists met at the cemetery where part of her ashes remain and carried out a prayer vigil and deposited several white gladiolus flowers, the symbol of the peaceful struggle of the Ladies in White.

The actions continued all week in other regions: Holguin, Baracoa, Bayamo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Pinar del Rio, among others.

On Saturday the 13th, the Ladies in White held a meeting in their headquarters, situated in Pollan’s home on Neptuno Street, in Havana.  Many of these women were arrested or kept from leaving their homes so that they not arrive to the encounter, but 18 of them were able to carry out the activity.

Marta Díaz Rondon, a Lady in White from the Eastern municipality of Banes, in Holguin province, was one of the women who were present.  Diaz Rondon had to leave days before in order to arrive to the capital, where she managed to surpass numerous police cordons and arrive to the group’s headquarters.

Diaz says that the activity was carried out in an atmosphere of peace in the house, as the women “lit candles in front of pictures of Laura Pollan and deposited various flowers”.  Meanwhile, outside the atmosphere was not the same.  The regime organized mobs around the home which consisted of state police agents in civilian clothing and various pre-university students and even dancers who tried to make the act of repudiation seem like a simple “celebration” before the eyes of the international media.

Not only did the mobs blast pro-government music, but their members also shouted insults and obscene words at the women.  The Ladies in White simply responded by singing the national anthem and shouting such slogans like “Laura Pollan Lives” and “Free Cuba“.

Nearby streets were closed off by the police and all traffic was re-routed to keep any other activists from arriving to the encounter.

On the following day- Sunday the 14th- a number of women throughout the country were reported as detained.

In the case of Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, the renown dissident recounted that her home was surrounded by political police agents since 1 AM to keep her from leaving her house and joining the peaceful march to the Santa Rita Catholic Church.  Neighbors told her that uniformed officials were keeping a tight vigilance over all the corners of the Rio Verde neighborhood of Boyeros, Havana, where her home is located.

In addition, the agents had the objective of keeping any other dissident from arriving to my house to pay our own tribute to that grand leader that was Laura Pollan Toledo“, said Fonseca.

Meanwhile, the State Security agents Sanper and Alejandro ‘visited’ the headquarter of the group and threatened the women, telling Berta Soler that the Ladies in White could not march.  However, Soler and Laura Labrada Pollan (Laura’s daughter) told the agents that they would not accept their instructions and they went out anyway and carried out their march with 48 women.  They were accompanied also by other figures of the opposition like Hector Maceda (former prisoner and husband of Pollan), Ofelia Acevedo (widow of Oswaldo Paya), Antonio Rodiles, Hugo Damian Prieto and former political prisoners Ivan Hernandez Carrillo and Arnaldo Ramos.

Hernandez Carrillo was reporting from the scene of the activities through his Twitter account: @ivanlibre.

A group of women from Santiago de Cuba managed to surpass numerous police cordons and arrive to the Santa Rita church, joining the group of more than 40 women who had already arrived.  Meanwhile, back in Santiago, another 30 women made it to the El Cobre Shrine.

In the central city of Santa Clara, 6 women from the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights were violently arrested when they were showing solidarity with the Ladies in White by trying to assist Mass in La Pastora Church.  The detainees were Idania Yánez Conteras, Damaris Moya Portieles, Yaite Cruz Sosa, Ana Rosa Alfonso, Xiomara Martin Jiménez and Yanisbel Valido Pérez.

Idania Yanez explains that the women were dressed in white- as a form of solidarity, as these women always wear black during their protests- and that they were dragged off the bus they were aboard while they were “beaten“.

State Security official Yunier Monteagudo Reina and other agents intercepted the bus we were traveling and started to physically assault us“, detailed Yanez, “Yunier hit Damaris Moya in the face and broke her lips… they dragged us throughout the floor, they shoved us and then they detained us and took us to the local police unit“.

The activists from the Rosa Parks Movement started to shout slogans against the government and others in honor of Laura Pollan while they were being assaulted.

Yanez said that at no point did the everyday people demonstrate hate towards them.  Instead, they looked at the events in horror and demonstrated their solidarity with the protestors.

Other activists were arrested as was the case of  Angel Moya Acosta and Raul Borges, among many others, but the internal opposition achieved their objective:  honoring Laura Pollan, that Lady who made the Cuban regime tremble with just a flower, demanding peace, freedom and justice.

Testimony: 98 Hours Behind Bars for Trying to go to Church

Martha Diaz Rondon shows bruise after beating at hands of regime thugs. Photo by: Luis Felipe Rojas

Marta Diaz Rondon, Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez and Miladis Pinales Rosa- all of who are Ladies in White from Banes, Holguin- were aboard a bus en route to Havana to assist the religious activities for the Day of the Virgin of Mercy on Wednesday, September 19th, when they were suddenly carried off by force by a number of State Security agents who intercepted the vehicle just minutes after it had set off from the station.

I was asleep when I noticed that they were lifting me up out of my seat to take me out of the bus by force”, recounted Diaz Rondon.  It was an action which caught her off guard, seeing as she had already paid her boarding pass and was already traveling.  “The three of us were taken down from the bus and shoved into a police vehicle… there was a very large police operation around the entire bus”.

According to the Lady in White, the agents organizing the repression were Douglas, Roylan, Freddy Aguero, Yordanys Martinez and various other unidentified officials.  All those mentioned are well-known oppressors in the province of Holguin, especially against women.

Marta, Gertrudis y Miladis were taken to the “Anillo” Unit, just to be transferred once again in another vehicle towards Velaya, where they left Gertrudis Ojeda in a local police unit in the municipality of Freire.  They confined Miladis Pinales and Marta Diaz in a dungeon of the Banes police unit.

As usual, the conditions in the cells were inhumane”, said Diaz Rondon, “they put us among roaches, rats, a plethora of mosquitoes and even crabs.  There was also human feces everywhere.”

The response of the two Ladies in White was to protest through a hunger strike, the form of protest they turn to when they are demanding their liberation.  In addition, the activists affirm that they do not trust the foods given to them in the regime’s penitentiaries.

In sum, the three women were behind bars for a total of 98 hours.  Throughout this whole time they remained on hunger strike, which led them to suffer a drop in blood pressure, taquicardias and lots of fatigue.

Díaz Rondon explains that “the official who goes by the name of Roylan told us that we owed him 98 hours because we went to Santiago de Cuba on September 8th”, referring to the Day of the Virgin of Charity, when a number of Ladies in White and other activists were detained throughout the island, but a group of women from the Eastern region- among them these three- managed to surpass the police cordons and arrive to the Sanctuary to participate in Mass.  “All of this was a form of vengeance against us”, said Diaz, who recently underwent a very delicate operation.  Regardless, she kept her protest, although clearly affected health wise.

Meanwhile, Gertrudis Ojeda suffered a hypoglycemia crisis in her cell.  After a long while, various women of the Ministry of the Interior entered her cell and told her she had to go to the hospital. However, Ojeda refused the orders.  “Their response was to throw me from the concrete bed which I was on (which is a few feet high up) against the concrete floor.  I suffered an injury on my breasts and I now have bruises all over”, recounted the dissident.

I also suffered physical blows on my hands and I was dragged around the unit, but I maintained myself in protest”, said Ojeda, highlighting the irony of the case- that she was being physically assaulted in order to be taken to the hospital for a health checkup.  But a common prisoner in that same unit showed solidarity with the activist and intervened, telling the guards and the MININT women that she would give Gertrudis a drink of her soda to help her with her sugar crisis.

That lady helped me…she gave me some of her soda and I felt a bit recuperated”, said Gertrudis.

Marta Diaz Rondon, who is the recipient of the Pedro Luis Boitel 2012 Freedom Award along with 4 other dissidents, expressed that “I sincerely thought we were going to die, or at least suffer some sort of heart attack”.

In reference to the 98 hour hunger strike, Diaz Rondon reiterated that it was the only way she could protest so much arbitrary actions against her.

They don’t even respect the fact that we are women, but we will continue fighting”, affirmed Diaz.

These women are constantly under vigilance by the State police, who impede them from assisting Mass and, in many cases, from going out to the market, to the home of a friend or to meet up with other dissidents.  They carry the scars of physical blows all over their bodies but their convictions and reasons for fighting against totalitarianism continue intact.

For more information from Cuba:

Marta Diaz Rondon – Cell Phone: +5352-277-1639 // Twitter: @MartaDiazRondon

Ladies in White, Activists Seek Solidarity to Put an End to Repression Against Them

“The repression this past weekend increased”, denounced Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) from the town of Palma Soriano, “and this is due to the fact that the political police of the tyranny is very bothered that last weekend, on the day of the Virgin of Mercy, about 50 Ladies in White from the Eastern region of the country surpassed the police operations they had set up around the entire area and were able to arrive to the capital…even though the majority of the women were eventually detained in Havana”.

As part of this crackdown, numerous Ladies in White from Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, Banes, Guantanamo, Bayamo and Holguin were arrested or impeded from leaving their homes when they tried to assist Sunday Mass in their respective churches.

Ferrer García explained that 4 Ladies in White were reported detained in Guantanamo and 14 in Santiago de Cuba.  The former political prisoner of conscience added that in Santiago “Darmis Aguedo and Adriana Isaac were beaten by the political police and were thrown off a truck onto the asphalt”.

In Banes, Marta Diaz Rondon explained that a police cordon was set up around her home, which kept her from leaving, as was the case of Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez in that same Eastern municipality.

Meanwhile, in other areas of Holguin province, 8 detainees were documented, among them Berta Guerrero Segura, Zuleidis Lisbeth Pérez Velázquez, Adisnidia Cruz, Danay Mendiola, Barbará Bauza Driggs and Glisedis Piña González.  Some of these women were detained in the notorious Pedernales Unit (known for torture and threats) and others were kept in “El Anillo” until after 1 PM, when Catholic Mass in the local Jesus Christ the Redeemer had already come to an end.

My house was completely surrounded by political police and State Security agents from the very early morning hours of Sunday, the 30th”, said Berta Guerrero Segura, representative of the female group in the province of Holguin.  “A group of female agents dressed in red shirt and blue pants, along with male State Security agents, carried out an act of repudiation against us and screamed insults at us with obscene words before arresting us.  The officials leading the operation were Yordanys Martinez Leon (chief of Confrontation in Holguin), and agents Rafael Chapman and Adonys Charles”.

During the arrest, the women were accused of ‘public disorder’.  “In fact”, added Guerrero, “as a form of blackmail and mockery, they told me that if we wanted to go to Church we would have to get ourselves an airplane or a helicopter to drop us off on top of the Church because we were not going to be allowed inside”.

Despite the regime’s aggressive operations, in the provinces of Matanzas, Havana and Pinar del Rio a number of women were able to surpass the vigilance cordons and assist Mass, where they prayed for the freedom of all political prisoners and of Cuba.

But throughout Monday, October 1st, the political police once again lashed out against the Ladies in White in Holguin.

State Security and political police agents surrounded my house all over again”, said Berta Guerrero during the afternoon.  This time, the agents detained various women who were trying to make it into the house, among them Barbara Bauza and Adisnidia Cruz.

Zuleidis Perez Velazquez detailed that the Ladies in White were giving out some small bags with food to their members “which were sent as gifts from our brothers in exile” and the regime agents robbed the humble products as they detained the women that day.

This has been just another form of robbery against us… mind you, those products were brought in legally to this country and they are all paid for”, denounced Perez, “and they don’t even give us an explanation nor have they, or will they, return them to us”.

Rosaida Gonzalez Escalona, an elderly Lady in White, was also arrested with violence, but without even participating in dissident activities that afternoon.  Her arrest occurred as she “was on her way to the train station of Holguin to say goodbye to one of her daughters…some agents came out of nowhere and detained her”, explained Perez Velazquez.

Meanwhile, the threats against others activists of Holguin also continued, like those against members of the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party (CID).  “Police officials continue to threaten the CID members, telling them that they cannot meet anymore in my house, and that they can no longer carry out activities.  There are two activists- Ramon Zamora Rodriguez and Carlos Enrique Nunez Cutino- that were told that their homes would be demolished.  In addition, a group of young activists from the New Juvenile Impact organization are also under violent threats”, added Perez.

In reference to her own case and that of the majority of the other Ladies in White and dissidents, Berta Guerrero Segura alerted “the international community” that the oppressive situation throughout the island has become “unbearable”.

We, the Ladies in White, can’t even go to a store or a market because they always arrest us”, she said.  “Whatever may happen to any of us, or our husbands or children is the direct responsibility of the Castro regime”.  In fact, her husband- dissident Franklin Peregrino del Toro– is also frequently arrested when he accompanies his wife out on the streets and many times when he is trying to buy food for his family.

I have lost count of all our arrests, but I know that there have been more than 40 in 2012 alone.  We ask international organisms like Amnesty International to join us in solidarity, to pay attention to our situation.  Our children are also suffering in school, where they receive threats that they will be expelled due to our activism.  I want the world to know what is happening in Cuba”, expressed Berta Guerrero.

From the Sanctuary of El Cobre, a Message of Hope and Faith from a Lady in White

We trust in the Virgin of Charity, and it is thanks to Her, and to all the prayers we sent her way that a number of us Ladies in White are here right now“, said Lady in White Marta Diaz Rondon from the Sanctuary of El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba on the afternoon of Friday, September 7th.

Rondon explained that since Thursday, during morning hours, she was receiving threats in her home in Banes, Holguin, by State Security official ‘Roylan’. “When I arrived to my house in Banes after Mass, at around 9 AM, Roylan showed up at my door and threatened me. He told me that if I tried to go to the Cobre Sanctuary in Santiago he was going to arrest me, and that he already had planned out how many hours I was going to be behind bars. The same official later threatened Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez (also a Lady in White) in her house”.

Regardless, Diaz Rondon and Ojeda Suarez both managed to surpass police cordons which had been installed throughout the municipality of Banes and successfully arrived to the National Sanctuary of El Cobre during the morning hours of Friday, where they confirmed that there were also other Ladies in White from diverse Eastern regions such as Santiago de Cuba, Palma Soriano, Mella and Moa.

Diaz Rondon expressed that she is a devotee of the Virgin of Charity, like so many other Cubans, and said she felt very proud that the image of Cuba’s Patron Saint would be carried throughout a wide range of towns all around Cuba.

The Lady in White also sent out a message to her compatriots in and out of the island. “I pray to the Virgin that she brings us Cubans many good things, and especially that she brings us freedom“.

The women, who are spending the night in the Sanctuary, will participate in the Mass to be offered there on Saturday, September 8th, and they will carry out their peaceful march after the service. Various members of this group have already been arrested by the State police as they have attempted to arrive to the temple.

We are going to pray for the freedom of all political prisoners, the freedom of all Cubans, and so that repression comes to an end. I pray that the Virgin shelter us under her cloak, just as she protected our Lord Jesus Christ“, said Marta Diaz Rondon.

For more information from Cuba:

Marta Díaz Rondon – Cell Phone: +5352-771-639 // Twitter: @MartaDiazRondon

Details About Trial Against Lady in White, Husband, and Relatives

Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez and her three children.

Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez- Lady in White, activist of the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights and of the Eastern Democratic Alliance– made an urgent call on July of 2012 when she was informed by State Security that she would be taken to trial and possibly sentenced to 2 years in prison along with her husband, activist Yoandry Naosky Ricardo Mir and his two brothers- Orlando Baez Mir and Luis Manuel Garcia Mir– under false accusations of having committed crimes of “slander and libel”.

The dissident, who is mother of three underage children and resident of Banes municipality, in the province of Holguin, denounced that the accuser is Orestes Hernandez, an individual who collaborates with State Security.  Hernandez accused the 4 of having “defecated on Fidel Castro’s mother” and of having offended and harassed him in the month of June of 2011.  Ojeda Suarez explains that Orestes works as security guard in the Pantheon of Martyrs Fallen in Defense of the Country and the Northern Nuevo Banes Cemetery where he alleges that the supposed crimes took place.  The Lady in White assures that the accusations are completely false and are only methods to take her husband, her relatives, and herself to prison due to their constant and growing activism in favor of human rights.

In addition, explains Gertrudis, “Orestes Hernandez and his mother Lorenza Hernandez lend their home to hide State Security agents and political police officers when they carry out acts of repression against us dissidents here in Banes“.  She also said that she was able to confirm that both collaborators of the regime are trying to leave the country and are making the accusations for this reason, so that the authorities give them exit Visas.  In Cuba, many participants of acts of repudiation and other violent actions are ‘rewarded’ with such permits to leave the country permanently or on vacation.

The trial took place this Thursday, August 16th 2012 in Banes, “behind closed doors“, explained Suarez.  “The trial was completely taken by State Security, among them agents like Lieutenant Colonel Roylan and Freddy Aguero Diaz“, well known local oppressors.

Because of the trial, other activists from Banes received violent threats that they could not direct themselves to the tribunal to show solidarity with the accused dissidents.

Marta Diaz Rondon, a well known Lady in White and independent journalist, was one of those threatened.  “During the morning of Wednesday, August 15th, when we were carrying out the weekly vigil for Cuba’s freedom in my home, State Security agent ‘Roylan’ showed up.  He threatened me, saying that he was not going to let me, or any other dissident, go to the trial“, explained Rondon.  “He also told me that he knew that I was recently operated but that he did not care…he told me he would arrest me and lock me up in the worst cell.  I told him that I did not care, that I was going to go to the trial, because my house is not a dungeon“.

The activist added that the agent, who goes by the name of Roylan, is a well known aggressor in that area and that he “brutally beat Gertrudis Ojeda, Miladis Rosa and myself this past January 2012 when we were trying to travel to Holguin city.  In fact, he dragged Gertrudis by the hair up to the third floor of a State Security office.  He is an aggressor against women…but we are not afraid of him“.

Diaz Rondon and 5 other dissidents were able to make it to the building where the trial would take place, but they were not allowed to enter, so they stayed outside, although under the vigilance of State Security.  Those who accompanied her were Delvis Martínez, Rafael Meneses Pupo, Alexander Rodríguez Santiesteban, Genaro González Acosta, and Miladis Piñales Rosa.

When the farce judicial process came to an end, Gertrudis was informed that her sentence would be announce on August 31st.

Yoandry Naosky Ricardo Mir

However, the Lady in White explained that “the witnesses who were present, who were supposedly going to testify against us, did not agree with the accusations.  They said that they had no knowledge of what had supposedly occurred in the Pantheon of the Martyrs and said that they knew us and had never had problems with us“.  It was a display of solidarity on their part.

Despite the solidarity, Getrudis Ojeda Suarez, Yoandry Naosky Ricardo Mir, Orlando Baez Mir and Luis Manuel Garcia Mir still run the danger of being sent to prison for 2 years.

Meanwhile, Marta Diaz Rondon assured that not only she, but all dissidents from Banes, will not allow “that threats from State Security intimidate us.  We are going to keep fighting“.

We know very well what we are going up against, we know that this is a dictatorship, but we are going to keep on in the struggle.  Wherever there is a dissident in trouble, we are going to be there supporting them, that’s why we are brothers and sisters in struggle, and we are all fighting for the same cause”, said Diaz Rondon.

Holguin: Arrests, Vigilance, and Police Cordons Not Enough to Stop Weekly Vigil and Meetings

As occurs every Wednesday, this 18th of July 2012, the “Vigils for the Freedom of All Cuban Political Prisoners” were celebrated across the island, while many Ladies in White also celebrated their monthly literary meetings.

From the province of Holguin, Lady in White Zuleidis Perez Velazquez informed that the literary meeting in that zone was carried out in the home of Berta Guerrero Segura, in the municipality of Cacocum.  However, Perez Velaquez says that “from the very early morning hours- starting at around 3 or 4 AM- there was a large police operation set in motion in nearly all the surroundings of Holguin, as well as many other municipalities like Velasco, Cacocum, Banes, Gibara, Antilla, and right here in the city of Holguin” in order to try and impede the female activists from arriving to their destination.

Among the Ladies who were surrounded and were not able to make it to the meeting were  Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez, Marta Díaz Rondón, Miladis Piñales Rosa, Daylin Guerrero, Lissette González Rodríguez  and Odalmys Suarez (all from different municipalities).  Meanwhile, 7 other women suffered arrests at the hands of the political police, among them Lidia Hernández Pérez, Rosaida González Escalona, Rosa María Naranjo Nieves and Lisbeth Pena Hernández.

4 women were able to make it to the home of Berta Guerrero- Nelda Molina Leyva, Romelia Piña González, Lisedis Piña González and Adisnidia Cruz where they were able to carry out their literary meeting.

Zuleidis Perez explained that the weekly vigil was carried out in her home in the city of Holguin.  Previously, this vigil would be celebrated in the home of the now exiled Lady in White and independent journalist Caridad Caballero Batista.  “Upon Caridad Caballero going into exile, here in the province of Holguin we decided to continue her hard work, through which she was able to achieve that many members of the Eastern Democratic Alliance w0uld meet.  Now, we will continue these meetings, and we will be doing it from my house every Wednesday“.

Just as Caballero Batista would do it (who suffered a constant repression due to her tireless activism for freedom), Perez Velazquez also “let the activists present know about the arbitrary situations occurring in all of Cuba, all the arrests and more“, as well as the increasing level of activism.

Four men (human rights activists) were also arrested upon trying to arrive to the house, among them José Mir Cruz and Heladio Pupo Nieves.  Regardless, the vigil was carried out with members of the Eastern Democratic Alliance and the Ladies in White.

These arbitrary actions and all these violations which are being committed in these provinces have been occurring every single Wednesday as well as every Sunday, where they prohibit us from making it to Mass at church“, affirmed Perez Velazquez, “they arrest us, beat us, threaten us, and mistreat us“.

Despite these crackdowns by the regime, the Lady in White assured that the Resistance in the province of Holguin will continue standing firm against the dictatorship.

For more information from Cuba:

Zuleidis Perez Velazquez – Cell Phone: +5358- 244- 778 // Marta Diaz Rondon – Cell Phone: +5352- 771- 630 // Twitter: @MartaDiazRondon

Cubans Throughout the Island Pay Tribute to Victims of the “13th of March” Tugboat Massacre

Some of the victims of the Tugboat Massacre

18 years ago, forces of the Cuban regime assassinated 41 people who were trying to flee the country in search of freedom in the United States aboard an old tugboat (“13th of March”).  The crime occurred on July 13th, 1994, when a couple of other state vessels persecuted the tugboat (which had 69 people on board), blocked its path, and used a cannon to fire water at the Cubans.  41 of those people died, drowned or from the impact, and among them were 11 minors.

In 2012, during the anniversary of this massacre, the repression of the regime (the same one which committed the crime) was not able to impede Cubans throughout the island from honoring the victims.

On the eve of the anniversary, about 18 activists in Santa Cruz del Sur, Camaguey, met at the home of dissident Yoan David Gonzalez Milanes to carry out a candlelight vigil followed by a pots and pan protest in memory of the vicitms.  On the following day, July 13th, this same group had plans to march out of the home up to a local river, where they would deposit flowers in honor of those assassinated.  However, government mobs surrounded the home, shouted violent slogans, kicked down the door, and impeded the dissidents from stepping out.  Regardless, on the morning of Saturday July 14th, the dissidents once again tried to step out of the house, and this time they did, although they were arrested by forces of the political police.

Another successful pots and pan protest took place on July 12th in the city of Placetas, in Santa Clara, where dissidents like Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”, Marta Díaz Rondon and Leticia Ramos Herrería participated.  They were carrying out a meeting there, debating a new opposition campaign dubbed “Towards the National Strike”.

July 13th began with the news that 6 activists from the Central Opposition Coalition in Santa Clara also carried out a peaceful march to a local river to also deposit flowers, but all of these members were violently arrested.  Among them was Idania Yánez Contreras, Rolando Ferrer Espinosa, Alcides Rivera and Damaris Moya Portieles. However, Alcides Rivera managed to throw the flowers into the river right before being arrested.  In the case of Yanez Contreras, she was shoved into a police vehicle and kept in there for nearly an hour before being taken into custody in a police unit, with the engine off, the windows up and under the scorching sun.

The Free Yorubas Association of Cuba, a religious organization independent from state control, carried out a religious ceremony a couple of days before the anniversary, in which they prayed for the victims and prayed for the freedom of Cuba.

In Havana, the home of Lady in White Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo had already been completely surrounded by the political police for 5 days, keeping her family and other dissidents from going out to the street.  Fonseca explained that, although they could not make it out, she managed to hang a large sign on her porch with messages condemning the Castro regime for the tugboat massacre and honoring the victims, highlighting that there were minors among the murdered.  The activist added that other members of the group which she presides over- the Pro Human Rights Party of Cuba– did manage to surpass police cordons and pay tribute to the victims publicly in the same province of Havana.

Meanwhile, also in Havana but in the neighborhood of Arroyo Naranjo, Eriberto Liranza Romero said that various activists from the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy shocked the police, despite having been under threats and vigilance for 2 weeks, managing to throw flowers into a local river.  On the morning of Saturday the 14th, Liranza explained on Twitter that other activities were being carried out by other members of the same youth group.

In Banes, Holguin, a group of dissidents from the Eastern Democratic Alliance marched to a river as well, successfully throwing flowers.  These same dissidents managed to surpass a police cordon which had been set up by State Security Major Roilan Cruz, one of the main culprits of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s assassination in 2010.

Other similar activities were reported in other provinces and cities, although telephone interruptions made it difficult to confirm further details.

Meanwhile, various Cubans across the island sent out messages through Twitter, using the hashtag #Remolcador13M (#Tugboat13M).  One of these Twitter users was former political prisoners Pedro Arguelles Moran who mentioned the anniversary and emphasized that the crime was executed under “orders of the Castro tyranny“.

The Pastor and blogger Mario Felix Barroso tweeted, “The assassins are still out on the street, but God will do justice“.  Meanwhile, Yoani Sanchez recalled that she was 17 years old when the massacre occurred and mentioned that many people, including her friends, would also risk their lives at sea in search of freedom.  She explained that she did not know of the crime until “a couple of months after“, but affirmed that “ignorance does not free us of responsibility“.

Help us to not forget them“, continued another Tweet by Sanchez, “to denounce the injustice“.  The blogger also published a link to a harrowing testimony by one of the survivors.

The youngest victims

Why Do You Fight?

“Why Do You Fight”? That is the question which blogger, writer, photographer and activist Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal asked various of dissidents in Cuba in his latest documentary, produced from within the island.

The reasons which the interviewees give are diverse, but they all coincide in that the Cuban dictatorship destroys freedom for all citizens and that they (dissidents) not only fight for their individual rights, but also for the rights of the entire nation.

Rojas Rosabal interviewed José Daniel Ferrer García (former political prisoner), Marta Díaz Rondon (Lady in White), Caridad Caballero Batista (Lady in White) , Tania Montoya (Lady in White) , Raumel Vinajera (former political prisoner) , Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina (former political prisoner)  and Reina Luisa Tamayo (mother of assassinated political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo).  In addition, the film includes some everyday images of Cuba taken by Rojas himself.

“Why do you Fight?” was published through the YouTube account of Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, also an independent blogger and photographer and includes English subtitles.

Despite Delicate Health and Recent Operation, Cuban Agents Threaten Activist with Lengthy Detention

Marta Díaz Rondón, independent journalist and Lady in White from Banes, Holguin, had to recently undergo an operation due to internal complications and has been recuperating for various weeks.  Regardless, this Wednesday 20th of June,nRondon left her home with her husband, Juan Oriol Verdecia, to direct themselves to the city of Holguin to visit their friend and sister-in-struggle Caridad Caballero Batista, also a Lady in White.  However, the couple was impeded from doing so by State Security agents who threatened to detain Rondon for various days.

We were intercepted at the bus terminal of Banes by two State Security Agents,” explained the activist, “they told me that they had orders that I could not travel out of my city, and that if i tried to do so, I was going to be detained for three days“.  The agents told Rondon that they did not care that she was recently operated.

Such threats are common against human rights activists in Cuba and, in the majority of cases, Diaz Rondon pays no attention to them and continues with her plans, despite suffering arrests or beatings.  However, this time, due to her delicate state of health, the activist and her husband had no other option but to return to their home.

A repressive wave has swept throughout the island, when one least expects it State Security is already there, ready to oppress us.  It is a constant vigilance“, denounces Rondon.

Though Marta is still recuperating from her health and her condition requires lots of rest, she has not stopped participating in pro-democracy activities, such as vigils, pots-and-pans protests, and reporting situations which are not included in the state media.

Nevertheless, Diaz Rondon’s health surely cannot currently withstand her being locked up for numerous days in inhumane conditions considering that during one of her most recent arrests (during the papal visit to the island) she suffered dehydration, dizziness, and fatigue.  She has also been beaten on countless occasions as she tries to make it to Sunday Mass in Eastern Cuba, something which has also caused many scars and pains all over her body.

They don’t even respect the fact that I am operated“, expressed the Lady in White.

For more information from Cuba:

Marta Díaz Rondón – Cell Phone: +5352-771-639 // Twitter: @MartaDiazRondon