Meet some of the hunger strikers in Cuba

Pictured in this photo is Luis Enrique Lozada (right), an activist of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), along with his family, in Maffo, Contramaestre. Lozada has been imprisoned for more than 2 weeks, after he was arbitrarily arrested by the political police. He offers his home each Tuesday to impart courses on civil disobedience and non-violent struggles for local activists as well as everyday citizens- neighbors, friends, etc. These encounters usually end in acts of repudiations and house raids at the hands of State Security, and it is also the reason for his detention last April 9th.

Luis Enrique was kept in the Third Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba for various days before being transferred over to the Boniato Prison. In response, approximately 14 relatives and friends stood outside the unit demanding his release, carrying out hunger strikes and protests. On his part, Lozada also declared himself on hunger strike.

The protest expanded when a total of 20 activists from UNPACU joined in. But now, there are more than 50 Cubans on hunger strike for the same cause. Here are the faces and stories of some of them:

Pictured above is Enrique Lozada Aguedo. He’s the 17-year old son of Luis Enrique Lozada. For a while, he was the youngest member of UNPACU, and in 2012 called on the Cuban youth to join the dissident movement to demand their rights. Now, he has put his life on the line to demand his father’s release.

Darmis Aguedo Zaldivar, wife of Luis Enrique Lozada, mother of Enrique; she is a Lady in White and member of UNPACU. She demands an end to the violence against her husband, her children, and the rest of her family and members of the peaceful opposition movement in the Eastern region of the country.

Arnoldo Lozada Igarza is Luis Enrique’s brother. He is frequently subjected to police violence along with his brother while they participate in the courses on non-violent civic struggles.

This is Lady in White Ana Celia Rodriguez, from Santiago de   Cuba. She is frequently persecuted and arrested by the political police when she tries to make it to Sunday Mass at the National Cobre Shrine. She is the mother of the young activist Anyer Antonio Blanco Rodriguez.

José Daniel Ferrer García, executive secretary of UNPACU, he is a former political prisoner of conscience and one of the leaders of the internal opposition on the island. He started his hunger strike alongside dozens of other activists in the Cespedes Park of Santiago de Cuba, right in front of the Cathedral of Santiago. Afterward, he took his protest back to his home in Palmarito de Cauto, which serves as one of the main meeting points of UNPACU. He said his protest was for the release of Luis Enrique Lozada as well as for the release of all detained UNPACU activists. In addition, he is calling for an end to violence against all peaceful dissidents in Cuba and is shedding light on the situation of more than 40 members of UNPACU who have been sentenced to prison terms for several years. Ferrer Garcia suffers from various health issues, all of them acquired in dungeons during his 7 year prison sentence, and his hunger strike may intensify these complications.

Sirley Avila, an ex delegate of the Popular Power Department in Limones, Las Tunas. She was fired for speaking without censorship and for trying to truthfully represent the people. Recently, she has joined the opposition. She’s been blacklisted by the government since.

More photos of some other hunger strikers:

Anyer Antonio Blanco, who provided the photos shown in this post, said on his Twitter account (@anyerantoniobla) on April 23rd that there are now a total of 54 hunger strikers. They hail from Palmarito de Cauto, Palma Soriano, San Luis, Holguin, Banes, Las Tunas, Pinar del Rio and many other places. The strikers are from UNPACU, but many other activists from diverse pro-freedom organizations have joined in fasts or with public protests, like the case of Grua Nueva, Ciego de Avila, where members of the Pedro Luis Boitel Movement and of the Rosa Parks Movement have been carrying out several demonstrations, and the members of the Democratic Alliance of Pinar del Rio, who have more than 60 members fasting in the province of Pinar del Rio. The Ladies in White and national coalitions such as the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Resistance Front have also joined in solidarity.

The political police has increased the level of violence against all those who lend their homes to show solidarity with the strikers, as well as against those who carry out marches or other civic protests. Many have been arrested and beaten, as was the case of Rubislandi Avila, rushed to a hospital after a brutal beat-down at the hands of the police in the town of Mella (Santiago de Cuba).

Meanwhile, in exile, Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia and Ana Belkis Ferrer Garcia (siblings of Jose Daniel Ferrer) have started a fast in solidarity with the strikers. Various Cubans living in different cities have joined the call. They are convoking others to participate in this display of support. Visit their webpage here.

For more videos of the hunger strikers, visit the YouTube channel of UNPACU.

Dictatorship tries to impede celebrations of a date which belongs to all Cubans

Drawing of Marti on cover of famous Cuban magazine. 1955.

With all and for the good of all” – one of the most famous phrases by Jose Marti is, perhaps, also one of the ideas which the totalitarian system in Cuba fears the most, proven- year after year- every 28th of January when countless uniformed agents are sent out throughout the island to try and impede civic demonstrations to commemorate the anniversary of his birth.  2013, the 160th anniversary, was no exception.

The police operations began on Sunday the 27th.  In Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, the home of dissident Yuniesky Dominguez Gonzalez– member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)– was attacked with feces, staining the door and windows.  Dominguez directly blamed the political police for this, since he and his wife, Lady in White Taimi Vega Biscet, had plans to carry out a tribute to Marti.

These are methods employed by the political police, I hold them responsible as well as the Communist Party and all other instruments of the regime“, said the activist.

Meanwhile, despite police vigilance and direct threats by State Security, in Havana 41 Ladies In White managed to carry out their traditional march to Santa Rita Church and later to Mahatma Gandhi Park (See video, courtesy of ‘Hablemos Press’). These women deposited flowers in a statue of Marti in that park and commenced to read various phrases by the poet.

In Cardenas, Matanzas, Leticia Ramos Herreria and other Ladies in White marched for 26 blocks until they arrived to a local park to also deposit flowers in another Jose Marti statue.  This achievement bothered the authorities to the point that State Security officials summoned Ramos to a police unit for the following day.  The activist recounts that she was threatened and offended during the interrogation but that she refused to sign any sort of document and let them know very clear that she would continue going out to the streets of Cuba.

On Monday, the 28th, the repression increased but so did the peaceful and public demonstrations.  In the same province of Matanzas, but in the city of Colon, Juan Francisco Rangel was also summoned to the police station and later surrounded in his own home by agents to try and impede a march.  However, he managed to take to the streets along with other activists from the Pedro Luis Boitel Party for Democracy, successfully carrying out the activity and depositing flowers for Marti, according to a Tweet published by Carlos Olivera (@COliveraCuba).

In Santa Clara, Villa Clara, a group of dissidents from the Central Opposition Coalition also took to the streets shouting slogans in favor of change and honoring Marti.  They were all violently arrested, according to a report by independent journalist and blogger Carlos Michael Morales Rodríguez.

Not too far from that city, in Placetas, members of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front carried out a protest against the regime, also screaming slogans such as “Jose Marti Lives“, as was captured in an audio published by ‘Radio Republica’ in the voice of dissident leader Jorge Luis García Pérez ‘Antúnez’.

A successful march with signs containing anti-regime messages and Jose Marti phrases took place on the streets of Quemado de Guines, Villa Clara, by various members of the Cuban Reflection Movement, among them Maydelis Gonzalez Almeida, who said the march “took place despite strong police vigilance“.

Activity in Quemado de Guines infront of Marti bust. January 28th, 2013

Despite acts of repudiation and some arrests, in Camaguey a public activity was carried out by activists of the Pro-Human Rights Party of Cuba, said Daniel Millet Jimenez.

In Grua Nueva, Ciego de Avila, dissidents of the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights and from the Pedro Luis Boitel Resistance Movement congregated to honor Jose Marti.

Throughout the Eastern region of the country, members of the Eastern Democratic Alliance in Baracoa, according to Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz, and of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy (CYMD) in Velasco, according to  Yonart Rodríguez Avila, also carried out their own meetings, marches and demonstrations in honor of Marti.  Yoandri Montoya Aviles said that in Bayamo, members of the Youth Movement of Bayamo paid homage to the “Apostle of Cuba”.

CYMD also carried out other activities in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, in Havana, publishing some photos of the events in their blog.  In the same province, Lady in White  Sara Marta Fonseca held a vigil and an encounter in her home located in Rio Verde, Boyeros.

UNPACU also published some testimonies on their YouTube channel detailing repressive actions against activists for trying to carry out their own tributes in Guantanamo.

Former political prisoner of conscience Ivan Hernandez Carrillo published a series of Twitter messages (@ivanlibre) denouncing that dissidents Pastor Alexis Huerta and Carlos Alberto Gómez, members of the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party (CID), were violently arrested in the central city of Sancti Spiritus also for trying to carry out similar tributes as those occurring throughout the country.  Cases of repression, police cordons, and beatings were also confirmed in Pinar del Rio against other CID members and the Pinar del Rio Democratic Alliance.

These were only a few of the events which took place on the island between the 27th and 28th of January, when Cubans paid tribute to one of the figures most representative of their culture- a culture which does not belong just to one political group or dictator.

 “A just cause, from the bottom of a cave, is more powerful than any army”

-Jose Marti

Ladies in White Assaulted in Pinar del Rio

Ladies in White in Pinar del Rio. Photo taken from Cuba Matinal Blog

The former political prisoner Raúl Luis Risco Pérez, from the Pinar del Rio Democratic Alliance, declared that this past Sunday, July 8th, four Ladies in White were arrested by the political police as they tried to make it to Sunday Mass in the municipality of San Juan and Martinez and that two of these arrests were carried out in a very violent fashion.

The detainess were Caridad Gutiérrez, Yaima Cordero FernándezElaida Quiñones  and Noralys Martin Hernández. The latter suffered a miscarriage during the beginning of 2012 after being physically assaulted by political police officials.  Since then, the repression against her and her family has been constant.

During the arrest of these 4 Ladies in White, Noralys Martin Hernandez and Elaida were “arrested in a very violent manner“, explained Raul Luis Risco, adding that they were “shoved into police vehicles and taken to police units” because they were peacefully resisting the arrest and continued to insist on going to church.

Along with these female activists, the vice-president of the Pinar del Rio Democratic Alliance and husband of Noralys Hernandez, Jose Rolando Casares Soto, was arrested as he accompanied the women and also had plans to attend Mass.

Risco reports that, “Casares Soto was arrested violently as well, and then taken to the National Revolutionary Police unit nearby, where officials threatened to apply the Social Dangerousness Law on him, or Law 88, best known as ‘The Gag Law‘”.

Non-violent acts of opposition and resistance have been increasing throughout the past few months in the island’s Western region of Pinar del Rio province, affirmed Raul Risco.

Raul Risco Perez Asks Pope Benedict XVI to seek “Truth with the Suffering People of Cuba”. #PopeCuba

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 from Raul Risco Perez, activist from the Democratic Alliance of Pinar del Rio.

“To his Holiness Benedict XVI, I’d tell him to please meet with the Ladies in White of our country, with a representation of civil society, and that he come to seek the truth.  And that he extract this truth not through state-run means, in other words the government functionaries with which he will meet, but instead that he seek the truth with the suffering people of Cuba”.
(Raul Risco has been reporting within the past few days that Catholic churches throughout the Westernmost Cuban province of Pinar del Rio- especially in the city by that same name- have been surrounded by regime soldiers, impeding dozens of Ladies in White and other human rights activists from attending mass to pray for the well-being and freedom of Cuba and its people)

For more information from Cuba:

Raúl Risco Pérez – Cell Phone: +5352 -452-317 / Twitter: @RaulRiscoPerez

“The Churches in the City of Pinar del Rio are Completely Militarized”. #PopeCuba

Raul Risco Perez

On the ninth anniversary of Cuba’s Black Spring (where 75 dissidents were arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 2003) and only one week before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island, a number of human rights activists throughout the country were repressed and detained, especially the Ladies in White who were attempting to go to mass in their respective local churches, this past Sunday. This oppressive wave also extended itself into the city of Pinar del Rio, located in the Westernmost Cuban province with that same name, according to dissident Raul Risco Perez, president of the Democratic Alliance of Pinar del Rio.

Riso Perez denounced that “since the afternoon of March 13th a large operation began which did not allow any dissident to go near any church in the city of Pinar del Rio“. The activist mentioned that “we (dissidents) cannot even pass two blocks away from the areas where those Catholic churches are“.

As part of this operation, this Sunday March 18th, a number of Ladies in White from the Pinar del Rio municipality of San Juan y Martinez were impeded from going to church. Among them were Belkis Perez and Yasmin Martinez, who were both detained. In addition, a group of activists from the pro-democracy organization Independent and Democratic Party of Cuba (CID) were also arrested. Some of these activists were Pedro Luis Orlando Rodríguez, Maikel Hernández Perdigón, Rolando Pupo, Yusnier Pupo and Jordan Pupo (these last 3 are bothers).

In another part of town, Raul Risco and a group of local human rights activists carried out a public meeting about citizen rights in Cuba in the intersection of San Juan and Galiano street on the same Sunday. “[During this event] we were surrounded by agents of the political police and by dozens of members from the Rapid Response Brigades who did not let us march as we had planned to protest the massive arrests of the Black Spring”, explained the dissident.

The current situation in the city of Pinar del Rio is one of much repression. The churches in the city of Pinar del Rio are completely militarized”, denounces Risco Perez.

For information from Cuba:

Raul Risco Perez – Cell phone: +5352-452-317 / Twitter: @RaulRiscoPerez

Sara Marta Fonseca Harassed, Detained, and Deported from Pinar del Rio

Sara Marta Fonseca and Julio Leon Fonseca

The Lady in White and leader of the Pro-Human Rights Party of Cuba, Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, traveled from her Rio Verde neighborhood in Havana to the province of Pinar del Rio this past Sunday February 12th along with her husband and dissident Julio Leon Fonseca.  The activist couple had plans to meet with Raul Risco Perez, the coordinator of the Pinar del Rio Democratic Alliance.  However, upon arriving to the home of Risco Perez, all three dissidents and their relatives quickly became victims of a lengthy act of repudiation which began at 8 PM and lasted throughout the afternoon of Monday, February 13th.

At approximately “8 in the evening on Sunday, the president of the Cuban Woman’s Federation in Pinar del Rio knocked on the door of Risco.  She was the one who spoke out and told my husband and I that we had to return to Havana“, explained Fonseca Quevedo, adding that “this woman was accompanied by 8 police officials who were dressed as civilians.  They threatened us and told us we were not allowed to carry out any sort of activity“.  In just a matter of minutes, the building where Raul Risco lives was totally surrounded by oppressors of the regime.  “In fact, there were even officials standing by the stairs of the apartment“, pointed out Fonseca.

The building remained like that all of Sunday night and continued onto the following day.  Those participating in the act of repudiation were Ministry of the Interior officials, students of the Cadet School, and State Security officials, and the majority of them were “dressed in civilian clothing“, according to Sara Marta.  The aggressors screamed obscenities at the dissidents and their relatives and demanded that Fonseca and Leon immediately return to Havana.  In addition to the three dissidents, there were also relatives of Raul Risco in the house, including his elderly parents, his wife, and their small daughter.

Raul Risco denounced that in the mob act of repudiation more than 60 people participated, and that the majority of them were the “traditional oppressors” who normally participate in violent acts against dissidents in that area of Pinar del Rio.  “Among them were Colonel Jorge (chief of State Security in Pinar del Rio), Lieutenant Colonel Pedro Linares, Major Ivon, the First Lieutenant Lorenzo, the First Lieutenant Juan Carlos, Captain Alba (State Security), Officer Maikel (political police), officer Dignora (Ministry of the Interior), Officer Zacaria (Ministry of the Interior) and Jose Vargas from the Rapid Response Brigades“.  According to the dissident, this last one- Vargas- is one of the “biggest corrupt and repressive officials in the province, who regularly robs things that belong to the people, including food“.

At around 2:30 in the afternoon, Sara Marta Fonseca and Julio Leon decided  to walk out of the apartment to run some errands, but their completely peaceful behavior culminated in an arrest.  Fonseca narrates that when they had walked only 3 blocks, “the chief of confrontation for State Security in Pinar del Rio arrived and told us that they were going to deport us to Havana in one of their police vehicles“.  Both Julio and Sara civilly resisted, declaring that they would continue walking and return to their home whenever they wanted to and through their own means.

They started to follow us“, recounts Fonseca, “and they called other police vehicles to arrest us.  They shoved us in one of their cars and some of the mobs arrived and started a brief act of repudiation because the car quickly sped off with us inside“.  During this time, the dissidents managed to scream back at the mobs- with slogans such as ‘Down with Fidel and Raul Castro’ and ‘We want free and multi-party elections’, and Sara Marta managed to quickly write a Twitter message on her cell phone, sending it out to the world as proof of the arbitrary arrest.  “They are detaining us“, read the message.  Fonseca was able to send out two more- “My husband Julio Ignacio and I taken under threats in a police vehicle towards Pinar del Rio exit.  Mobs are offending us” and “Deported  from the city by State Security in car and closely followed by political police“.

The dissidents were taken to the bus station of the area, and the agents tried to make them board a bus out of Pinar del Rio and to Havana, but both husband and wife refused, affirming that they would return to Havana on their own.  It was then that the officials stopped a taxi and the dissidents were pushed inside.  In the taxi, in addition to the driver, there were various citizens inside.  State Security officials and Political Police agents stopped the car various times on its route to Havana, with the purpose of harassing and intimidating the activists who were sitting in the backseat.

The people who were in the taxi became really upset and began to complain“, explained Fonseca, “Julio and I took advantage of the moment and explained to them why this was happening to us, who we are, and we handed out a few copies of the Declaration of Human Rights which we had on us“.

Upon arriving to their neighborhood of Rio Verde, Sara Marta and Julio were still under surveillance by uniformed and civilian clothes agents.

What happened to us is just more proof of the totalitarianism of the Cuban regime and the lack of respect towards human rights“, affirmed Fonseca Quevedo, “and it just inspires us even more, and the meeting we had planned with our brothers in Pinar del Rio will happen, whether the regime wants it or not“.

We are Cubans, we live in Cuba, and we have every right in the world to travel freely through any province of our country.  We will return to Pinar del Rio“.


For more information: Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo (011-5353-379-011).  Twitter: @SaraMartaCuba