On Sunday January 16th numerous arrests of Ladies in White and other dissidents occurred in the Eastern region of Cuba- particularly Holguin- as human rights activists were once again impeded from assisting their local churches. The dissidents had plans to demand the freedom of Ivonne Malleza, Ignacio Martinez and Isabel Haydee Alvarez, as well as to pray for the health and spirit of hunger-striking political prisoner Wilman Mendoza, whom is currently in critical condition in the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital of Santiago de Cuba. According to the independent journalist and Lady in White Caridad Caballero Batista, the arrests began on Saturday morning with the violent arrests of Marta Diaz Rondon, Gertrudis Ojeda, and Miladis Rosa, as these three Ladies in White traveled from their native town of Banes towards the city of Holguin where they had planned to participate in Sunday mass.
Caballero Batista recounts that in Cacocum, Holguin, dissidents Franklin Peregrino del Toro and his wife Berta Guerrero were also detained. Meanwhile, in the city of Holguin Batista was arrested alongside her husband Esteban Sande Suarez and Isabel Pena Torres (Lady in White). All of these arrests occurred at around 8 am.
“The arrest was very violent“, recalls Caridad, “We received physical blows on our arms, on our heads…we were kicked in our legs and all over our bodies“.
After the beating, Caballero, her husband Esteban, and dissident Isabel Pena were taken to the Instructional Unit of Pedernales, located in the outskirts of Holguin. Upon arriving at the Unit (notorious for its deplorable cells and harsh treatment against inmates) a guard physically attacked Caridad Caballero. “The guard punched me on the mouth because he wanted me to remain silent and not demand my rights“, explained the activist who did not cease protesting the aarbitrariness.
After being beaten, Caballero was pushed into a cell where there were two other women who were trying to pass as inmates. But the reality of these women was another. “Those women were not prisoners, they were placed their intentionally to harass me“, denounced Batista, who noticed that both these women had participated in violent acts against her and other dissidents in the town of Banes, when Reina Luisa Tamayo- mother of fallen political prisoner Orlando Zapata- still lived there. The false inmates tried to intimidate Caridad but the dissident remained true to her anti-dictatorship posture.
While Batista, Sande, and Torres remained detained, various other dissidents, including Zuleidy Pérez González (Lady in White), Juan Cordero Perdomo, Enrique Núñez and Luis Jaime Merino head out to the State Security Unit to demand freedom for the three tireless activists. These activists who had demonstrated such a sign of solidarity were also arrested by force and taken to Pedernales. Batista added that “in Cacocum, in addition to Franklin Peregrino and his wife, also detained was Rosaida Gonzalez Escalona at aroudn 1 pm. She was taken to the unit in the midst of constant physical aggressions“.
Caridad, Esteban and Isabel were released at around 1 in the afternoon. Though numerous Ladies in White and other activists could not assist mass due to the violent operations against them, Caballero Batista nevertheless points out that she feels “joyful, because other women could end up going to church in Holguin afterall“, referring to a group of Ladies in White which managed to surpass the chord of vigilance set up around the area. These women were able to assist mass during the morning at Jesus Christ the Redeemer of Humans, located in Holguin in the Pueblo Nueva neighborhood on 5th Street. “Knowing that there are even a few of us in mass makes us much stronger“, adds Batista. Among the Ladies in White who were able to assist mass on that morning in Holguin were Grisel Piña González, Ana María Aguilera Paneque, Noemi Hidalgo Gómez y Naida León.
During that same Sunday, another set of violent arrests of 19 Ladies in White occurred in Santiago de Cuba as the female activists left mass in El Cobre Sanctuary and marched towards the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital to morally support Mariza Pelegrino, wife of the very critical Wilman Mendoza. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia explained to ‘Hablalo sin Miedo‘ that the arrests were brutal.