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.

Repression on 143rd Anniversary of ‘The Cry of Yara’

UNPACU carries out protest, faces both repression and solidarity

A patriotic date for Cubans- the 10th of October, when independence fighter Carlos Cespedes granted freedom to black slaves and initiated the Ten Years’ War  for independence, in an act known as ‘the Cry of Yara’- was celebrated 143 years later by dissidents on the island carrying out non-violent protests, and also with repression on behalf  governmental forces.

According to former political prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), an organization headed by him and other dissidents, carried out a peaceful protest through the streets of Palmarito de Cauto in correlation with the historic date and in demand for the respect of the inalienable rights of all Cubans.  “A number of activists took to the street with signs which read ‘Down with Fidel’, ‘Fix our streets’, ‘Milk for our children’, and ‘Internet for all’, and shouted these same slogans along with others and also sang the national anthem“, explained the distinguished dissident.  The protesters were able to see that the majority of the neighbors stared from their windows or doors in a sign of support, while the only ones who tried to stop them were 7 members of the government’s Rapid Response Brigade and a lady who is an active Popular Power delegate and Communist Party member, who hurled rocks at the dissidents from her house.

Upon noticing the absence of excessive violence towards the demonstrators on behalf of the locals, officials from the Political Police, Revolutionary Police, and State Security began to arrive to the city.  “Those agents began to surround the entire town, and one could clearly hear how they felt rage upon not seeing a massive display of aggression against the activists.  The officials were asking themselves and everyone around how this had been possible“, while the superiors scolded the local militants, declaring that such behavior was “not acceptable“.

According to Ferrer Garcia, this position assumed by everyday citizens is becoming more and more common every time, with less or no neighbors participating in acts of mob repudiation or other forms of violence.  “It is true that many people still feel fear and therefore do not protest publicly, but we are also witnessing that more and more show sympathy to us and even tell us we are doing a very brave thing“.  A recent example of this occurred minutes after the march, when “various youths began to shout the same slogans which they had heard dissidents shout during the peaceful march, and these people are not even openly opposition members, yet they confronted the Rapid Response Brigade.  This has been frequently happening, despite the fact that the authorities try to make it seem otherwise, using the tactic of blackmailing and utilizing workers of certain sectors such as commerce or food, telling them to pretend to be upset and to shout offensive slogans at us.  If they fail to do so, they lose their jobs“, denounces Ferrer.

Although initially there was no excessive violence, just a few moments after the officials showed up armed with sticks and rods.  Various agents used these weapons of repression against two female dissidents who had participated in the march- Oria Casanova and Tania Banderas, both who are mute.  Casanova and Banderas were victims of a severe beat down.

In order to try and impede such reports to be brought quickly to light, Cuban authorities blocked the phone lines of Jose Daniel and his wife, Belkis Cantillo since the prior day, Sunday October 9th, when other brutal acts had occurred against dissidents on the island.  In one case, 13 Ladies in White were beaten while they attempted to assist mass at church.  The uniformed government soldiers persecuted those activists which were reporting the events and capturing the aggressions on film.  They were trying to confiscate their cameras.  One of the victims of the physical violence was also Belkis Cantillo, who suffered various kicks to the stomach.

Other acts of repression in the island

In the Eastern city of Las Tunas there was also repression while activists attempted to celebrate the historic date.  From her Twitter account, the exiled daughter of activist Ramon Velazquez Toranzo, Rufina Velazquez, denounced that her father had been arrested along with other opposition members.  He was detained when he tried to step out of his house.  Political police officials stopped him and shoved him in a police vehicle, keeping him there for a few hours.  Other dissidents belonging to the Christian Liberation Movement suffered the same fate.

In Placetas, Jorge Luis Garcia ‘Antunez’, recounted that he was on his way home after visiting recently released activist Sara Marta Fonseca when he noticed that countless government officials were following him.  Antunez lives knowing that these watchdogs are keeping a close vigilance on him, as they have set up a circle around his neighborhood, taking note of his activities as well as those of his wife and other dissident friends.  The 10th of October was no exception.  “The uniformed officials were keeping a close vigilance in their attempt to impede anyone from going in our out of my house“, denounced the dissident.

Meanwhile, in Santa Clara Guillermo Farinas and the independent journalist Carlos Baluerdy Oregon were detained while they tried to get to the local Leoncio Vidal Park to carry out an act of solidarity with activists of the Central Opposition Coalition who have maintained a hunger strike in demand for the immediate end to violence against resistance members.  Both were released during afternoon hours.  In the province of Matanzas, State Security carried out a brutal beating against members of the Independent Alternative Option Movement , according to a note published on Babalu Blog which was written by former political prisoner Miguel Sigler Amaya, now exiled in Miami.  The activists were planning to march all the way to the local cemetery, paying tribute to deceased martyrs on that patriotic day.