Jorge Cardona, son of a Major (with the same name) of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and of the Military Counter-Intelligence, stoned the home of the dissident family of Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez and Yoandri Naoki Ricardo Mir and physically attacked one of their underage children in Banes, Holguin, in Eastern Cuba.
The events took place at around 7 PM on July 3rd when two of Ojeda and Mir’s children were playing outside their house.
“Jorge Cardona showed up and started to throw rocks towards my children and my house“, recounts Gertrudis Ojeda, notably agitated by the actions which put the lives of her children in danger, “Cardona rushed up to my oldest son, Ernesto, who is 14 years old, and kicked him twice on his left leg, causing him some injuries“.
When they noticed what was happening, Gertrudis and Yoandri rushed out of the house in defense of their children, just to find Jorge Cardona shouting pro-government slogans at them, as well as offensive phrases, such as “worms“.
Ojeda Suarez says that Cardona, who is 18 years old, began to throw more rocks which nearly hit Yoandri in the head, as well as their 5 year old son.
“We know that this was all set up by State Security against us because, earlier that day, we had gone to the police unit to show solidarity with one of our brothers in struggle from the opposition“, explained Ojeda, who could confirm her declaration even more when “suddenly a Suzuki motorcycle (used by State Security) arrived on the scene and rapidly took the 18 year old away“.
On the afternoon of that same day, Gertrudis, her husband and other activists protested in front of the police unit of Banes, as a display of solidarity with Antonio Gonzalez Costa, a member of Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID), who had been summoned to the police unit and threatened by State Security because of his activism. Just 2 days before, Gertrudis and Yoandri also protested in the same unit, demanding the release of dissident Rafael Meneses Pupo and 2 other activists who had been arrested upon leaving their home. The pressure they carried out led to the liberation of the 3.
It’s common practice for State Security to retaliate against citizens who publicly oppose the totalitarian system through actions like these, using members of the military forces to carry out acts of violence.
The Cardona family frequently participates in these acts of repression, whether it be Jorge (father) or his wife, affirm the Holguin activists.
“The wife of Jorge Cardona (father) has participated in acts of repudiation against us“, recounts Gertrudis, “State Security uses these people since they are military officials to try and provoke us and then jail us“.
However, it’s not necessary for a dissident to respond to a provocation to be taken to a prison in Cuba. Gertrudis, a member of the Ladies in White, and Yoandri Naoki, both member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO), are continously detained for various hours and, many times, days, just for carrying out marches, organizing debates, workshop and vigils, as well as carrying out other acts of civil disobedience in public. When they are not detained, they are victims of beatings and house raids at the hands of the political police.
In their monthly report of human right’s violations in Cuba, the independent news agency ‘Hablemos Press‘ documented less arbitrary arrests of pro-freedom activists in the month of June, but noted the sharp increase in excessively violent actions carried out by the political police, paramilitary forces and highly dangerous citizens used by Cuban Intelligence. Among them: machete attacks, house raids, beatings during dawn hours, and deportations.
“I want to call on Amnesty International and public opinion in general, so that they please intercede for us…because this dictatorship is putting the lives of my children in danger“, declares Gertrudis Ojeda, “They could have hit my kids with a rock and could have killed them, as well as my husband. I am very fearful of what may happen to my family, and it’s likely that this cruel dictatorship will attempt against our lives again, considering that this is a dictatorship with absolutely no feelings and very violent“.
“The violence against us is constant. It doesn’t consist just of shouting slogans against us, but also carrying out violent actions with rocks, beatings, and more“, she adds.
Audio: Declarations by Gertrudis Ojeda (in Spanish):
For more information from Cuba, contact: Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez – Cell Phone: +58-025-501
When dissident Daniel Barriel Sanjurjo, organizer of the “Zapata Lives” cell of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Santiago de Cuba, heard abrupt knocks on his door on the morning of June 28th and noticed that they were coming from agents of the Cuban political police, he knew there were going to be problems, all because of his pro-democracy activism. The agents ordered him to open the door, but since they did not present a search warrant, Barriel refused. Police officials kicked down the door, breaking parts of it and raiding the house.
“Upon entering my home, the 6 agents rushed towards me“, recounted the young dissident, “they started to beat me in front of my wife and my 5 year old son“.
Barriel was aggressively handcuffed (he still has the marks) and he was forcefully taken out of his home while still wearing underwear and shoved into a police vehicle. He was taken to the Operations Unit of Versalles.
The police agents were accusing the activist of having painted messages against the Cuban regime on top of a mural with images of dictators Fidel and Raul Castro. Daniel denies this, not because he is against the gesture, but because he explains that his activism is “public” and he does not have to hide his actions.
“Upon arriving to the unit, they put me into an inhumane cell with only enough room for 2 prisoners which were already there. One of these prisoners was an assassin and the other was a marijuana dealer“, said Barriel, who assures that he was victim of “psychological tortures” at the hands of State Security agents who continuously warned him that they would “disappear” him and that he “would not see the light of day again“.
The Santiago native adds that he was interrogated 2 more times and was then moved to another cell at around 4 in the afternoon, where the threats that he would go to prison continued.
Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, leader of UNPACU, explains that the Versalles Unit is known for the psychological tortures against detainees, as agents “try to break the will-power of the dissident and try to convince them to drop out of the opposition movement“.
In this torture process the detainees are usually kept for various days, weeks or months, but in the case of Daniel Barriel he was released the same day. “All of this is due to the brave response of more than 40 of our activists“, explains Ferrer.
Numerous activists “met at the home of Barriel in the Sueno Neighborhood and publicly declared that they were going to take to the streets to protest“, recounts the former political prisoner.
“Upon seeing the intelligent ad rapid response of the dissidents, the police decided to surround them in the house and brought members of the Rapid Response Brigades (paramilitary group) who tend to attack human rights defenders with weapons such as sticks, rocks, metal objects, etc”. Despite this, the demonstrators remained firm and ready to go out to the street.
The persistence of the activists led the police to release Barriel Sanjurjo.
“Suddenly, a couple of agents visited me and told me that there was a process open against me for the crime of writing over the murals and that they would summon me again to the unit, but that I would be released for the time being“, recounts the activist. At the same time, Barriel’s mother received a phone call from a police agent asking her to please keep the more than 40 activists “calm” because they were going to release her son.
Daniel details that he was taken to his home in a police vehicle. Upon arriving, he noticed the presence of mobs who were carrying out an act of repudiation. He pointed out that the aggressors were all officials or members of paramilitary groups but “none of them were neighbors or everyday people“.
Barriel pointed out that he was still in danger of going to prison, considering that the police told him accusations against him were still open. Regardless, he thanked all dissidents who showed solidarity with him during his arrest and affirmed that he will continue carrying out his work as director of the “Zapata Lives” Cell of UNPACU, which is made up mostly of young activists who define their activism with public activities on the streets, such as marches or the handing out of pro-freedom pamphlets.
This effort of working together and using pressure to achieve the liberation of a detained activist is not an isolated case. This Monday, July 1st, for example, 3 activists were detained in the municipality of Banes, Holguin, among them Rafael Meneses Pupo.
The 3 were released from the National Revolutionary Police Unit when Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez, member of the Ladies in White and of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, and her husband Yoandri Naoki Ricardo Mir carried out a protest inside the unit.
Cases such as these “prove that the political police doesn’t feel sure of itself, not even with their own officials“, while everyday citizens and the organized opposition continue gaining space, expresses Jose Daniel Ferrer.
For more information from Cuba, contact: Daniel Barriel Sanjurjo – Cell Phone: +53-388-130
Rafael Meneses Pupo, a human rights activist from the Eastern Democratic Alliance, from Los Negritos neighborhood in Banes, Holguin province, affirmed that the regime forces of the political police and State Security have refused him his right to travel to the municipality of Antilla, in the same province of Holguin. The authorities admitted that this prohibition was based on the growing number of stickers and signs with anti-government and pro-freedom messages that are appearing.
“Captain Freddy from State Security in Banes told me himself that I could not travel to Antilla“, said Meneses Pupo, highlighting that the Captain said “that the reason that he could not travel was because Antilla was full of stickers with pro-freedom messages and that we were trouble and could not go there“.
This past 26th of July 2012, Cristian Toranzo Fundichely, also an activist from the Eastern Democratic Alliance and the director of the “Antillano Libre” independent newspaper, reported from Antilla that a number of stickers with “messages of no-cooperation with the Cuban dictatorship” had been pasted in public spaces amid celebrations of a state holiday. Prior to this, on July 23rd, Fundichely explained that a large “Down with Fidel” sign had also appeared in the same municipality. According to the young dissident, Antilla is an area in which signs, stickers, and other displays of popular discontent with the regime constantly appear.
According to the reports of both these Eastern dissidents, the Cuban authorities have found themselves in a position where they have had to admit that they are losing power and cannot control the desires of the population, which is why they must detain and prohibit human rights activists from traveling within their own country, so that they are not present in areas where local discontent is high, in order to prevent a massive popular protest.
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!