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 Fernández, Elaida 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.
During the morning of Sunday, April 8th, the director of the Pinar del Rio Democratic Alliance- Raul Risco Perez - was on his way from Pinar del Rio province to Havana to pick up a couple of gifts which a friend had sent him from abroad, when he was arrested by various political police agents who also robbed his gifts- a laptop, printing ink, and a voice recorder, among other things.
At around 10 AM, Risco Perez had already met with a tourist who had done his friend a favor and brought the gifts to the dissident. After a brief meeting, the activist decided to start walking back to the bus terminal but was intercepted by three political police agents who asked him for identification. In a matter of just seconds, Risco was detained and shoved into a police vehicle [license plate # 606], all “under the orders of Major Stevenson“, said the dissident.
Risco was kept in a jail cell of the Havana police unit located on Zapata Street and C. He was there from 10 AM until 8 PM.
“The political police committed various crimes against me“, explained the dissident, “Firstly, it was a completely arbitrary arrest which sharply went against my citizen rights. Then, they confiscated – or better yet, robbed- a laptop which was given to me, ink for the printer, and a voice recorder. They kept all those things. They did not hand me a single document authorizing the occupation of my belongings nor did they give me a document explaining my arrest. I was kidnapped and kept in that police unit“. In addition, the penal functionaries prohibited Risco from communicating with his relatives and friends.
While in his punishment cell, Raul was threatened various times. One of these threats occurred when one official told him, in regards to his belongings, that “they are means which are used by us, the dissidents, to subvert the interior order of the country and to carry out acts of counter-revolution. They also said that they were not going to allow any of those things in Cuba, affirming that wherever they see one of these things they would confiscate them“.
After being released, the activist headed to the General Fiscal of the Republic where he presented a denouncement although he knew that his attempt would be futile. “Major Stevenson told me that I could make all the claims I wanted but that those things would not be returned to me because they were already confiscated“, explained the dissident.
Risco Perez expressed that the state-sponsored repression against him, and all other dissidents from Pinar del Rio, has noticeably increased. “The regime is taking many repressive measures against our organization- the Pinar del Rio Democratic Alliance- which is also the largest dissident group in Pinar del Rio. The harassment is nearly unbearable. We do not have a single minute or a single moment in which we are not under the tight surveillance of the oppressive forces“, he pointed out, adding that the repressors are not only uniformed officials of the political police, but also people who carry IDs which read Rapid Response Brigades or Collaborators of State Security. “These people are mostly of dubious social conduct“, said Perez.
“The last encounter I had with the State Security chief in the province of Pinar del Rio, he threatened with applying Law 88 [The Gag Law] against me as soon as the ‘high command gave the order’. He told me this was because I was the ‘leader’ of the ‘counter-revolution’ in Pinar del Rio“.
This 8th of April- ResurrectionSunday- in the Eastern Cuban city of Holguin, Ladies in White Caridad Caballero Batista and Isabel Pena Torres were arrested with violence. Political police agents applied headlocks on these women, then twisting their arms and taking them detained to the Pedernales Instructional Unit, where they were kept in completely dark cells until 11:30 AM, right when Sunday Mass at the Jesus Christ Redeemer of Men Church came to an end.
However, Caridad Caballero says that on their way to church, right before being arrested, “Isabel and I were able to walk about 15 blocks with our flowers in hand, and the everyday people greeted us and wished us their blessings. Although we were just two women, they knew who we were and they said hello to us…it was a very beautiful moment“. Nevertheless, a number of State Security agents aboard a police vehicle followed the women throughout town until they were finally arrested out on the street. Caballero denounces that “the official who was in charge of this operation was agent Jordany Martinez Leon“.
In the case of Caridad Caballero, her husband Esteban Sandez Suarez, and their son Eric Sandez, they all had plans this Saturday and Sunday to arrive at church to receive their first communion and confirmation. On Saturday morning, Caridad and Esteban were able to surpass the cordons composed of the political police, the national police, and the Rapid Response Brigades, but Eric did not have the same luck, considering that he was trying to leave his house later but was impeded from doing so by numerous agents. In addition, all the telephone lines of the family were intercepted and blocked by the censoring apparatus of the Cuban regime. That night, Caridad and Esteban were able to make it to the Jesus Christ the Redeemer Church and received their first communion.
In reference to this experience, Caridad recounts that it was a very “emotional” moment for her, considering that it was the first time in 2012 that both were able to make it to Mass. “The churchgoers would greet us, they told us that they had not seen us for far too long, they asked how we were…they were very worried about us“, says the Lady in White. “It was an incredible moment,” said the activist in reference to so much solidarity, “It was a very emotional rencounter with people with who we have shared so much time with. I will never forget it“.
On Sunday, it was scheduled that the dissident couple would receive their confirmation, but due to Caridad’s arrest, it was not possible, though this time Eric was able to make it to church. He received his first communion. His house, however, was surrounded by Cuban soldiers but his father, Esteban, managed to clandestinely take his son out on that morning. According to Caballero Batista, “during Eric’s communion, many churchgoers asked him about me and he explained to them that I was detained for trying to arrive“. Another 5 Ladies in White were able to make it to church.
Meanwhile, in the same province of Holguin, in the municipality of Cacocum, the dissident couple made up of Lady in White Berta Guerrero Segura and Franklin Peregrino del Toro spent the entire weekend with their home surrounded by political police agents. On Sunday the 8th, Guerrero Segura was violently arrested as she tried to leave her house for church. In that same region, Adis Nidia Cruz (also a Lady in White) was detained for trying to arrive to church to pray for the liberation of her two jailed sons (Marcos Maikel Cruz and Antonio Lima Cruz) who were sent to the Castro dungeons for publicly listening to anti-government music.
In Banes, Holguin Lady in White Marta Diaz Rondon and her husband Juan Oriol Verdecia managed to make it to Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Charity, though under “constant vigilance of State Security“. According to Rondon, these agents “persecuted us until we arrived at the actual church” and they waited for the activist and her husband outside the church until Mass was over in order to keep surveillance over them again all the way until they reach their homes. Other Ladies in White in Banes- Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez and Miladis Pinales Rosa- were not able to make it to Mass considering that uniformed police officials kept them from leaving their own homes. Diaz Rondon denounced the constant threats against her and assured that in Cuba, religious freedom is not respected.
Other arrests of Ladies in White were reported in Santiago de Cuba and in Havana, while in the town of Pedro Betancourt, Matanzas the regime unleashed a wave of 28 arrests of human rights activists. This occurred on Saturday April 7th after the former political prisoner Angel Moya Acosta was violently arrested the previous day in the same town. Moya had plans to visit the cemetery where his mother is buried, but was intercepted by the Cuban police. The other 28 detainees had the sam plans- to travel to the cemetery. Moya Acosta was released on the night of Sunday.
The Lady in White from Havana, Sara Marta Fonseca, reported on her Twitter account (@SaraMartaCuba) that former political prisoner from Pinar del Rio, Raul Risco Perez, suffered an arrest at around 10:30 AM on Sunday. He was behind the bars of a police unit until 7 PM and the police agents confiscated various of his belongings, among them a laptop and voice recorder.
During this time, the former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia remains detained in a police unit of Palmarito de Cauto. Garcia was violently arrested this past Sunday 2nd, after his house was broken into by Cuban police. His wife, the Lady in White Belkis Cantillo Ramirez was detained alongside Jose Daniel but was released on Saturday night. Both Belkis and her 14 year old daughter Martha Beatriz Ferrer have suffered detentions and threats on behalf of the Cuban authorities during this weekend.
In Cuba, Holy Week goes by like any other week on the calendar- full of state sponsored persecution, aggression, and violence against dissidents and human rights activists who simply demand freedom for Cuba in a completely peaceful fashion.
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)
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.
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
When the authors of this blog called Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez” this past Tuesday, August 30th, to record some declarations about the savage beating carried out against a dissident- Yoan David Gonzalez Milanes- the voice emanating from the other line was not what was expected. As it turns out, the Cuban political police, bent on silencing and humiliating any person who opposes them, has applied another form of censorship- manipulating voices coming out of cell phones. Antunez condemned that, this time, the repressive apparatus of the Cuban tyranny, in all its desperation, worked together with the Cuban phone company ETECSA to distort his voice, making it difficult to understand, attempting to make recorded declarations less credible and to make fun of him.
We had to call the cell phone of Yris Tamara, wife of Antunez, in order to better communicate and record his message. We were able to record his normal voice, from his wife’s phone, and his distorted phone on his cell phone. Here are the recordings. The first half is his regular voice, the second is the work of the Cuban political police:
On that same Tuesday, various reports were detailing that the telephone lines of many dissidents had been blocked by the Cuban regime. Many have suggested that this increased censorship is because dissidents have been constantly reporting all the atrocities being committed against them and everyday citizens on the island, specifically the savage beatings of the Ladies in White and other activists. Recently, dissident blogger Luis Felipe Rojas reported that he too was facing harsh censorship as he traveled miles in an attempt to access the internet, which as it turns out was restricted. Antunez classifies all these restrictions and all the beatings against dissidents as “brutal and cowardly acts of repression employed by the Castro-communist tyranny throughout the entire island, especially in Eastern Cuba“.
“This violence seen all over the country proves the desperation and rage of the regime“, stated Antunez, “they do not want to accept all the success being achieved by the Cuban resistance, which despite beatings and prison threats is still taking to the streets“.
Dissident Yoan David Gonzalez Milanes Beaten by Political Police
Antunez also expressed concern for the health of the young dissident Yoan David Gonzalez Milanes who is handicapped, as he is missing a leg. “Just a few hours ago“, Antunez explained, “he denounced that he had just been beaten by an instigator of the political. Crutches and all, he was beaten and injured“. Antunez considers Yoan David to be a dignified representative of the Cuban resistance and he is calling on the international community to intercede for him. He also expressed worry for Raul Risco Perez, a dissident and member of the Orlando Zapata National Front from Pinar del Rio. Just a few days ago, Risco suffered a severe beating and arrest at the hands of the political police while he carried out a peaceful street protest. As of yet, he is still missing.
Despite the fact that the dictatorship’s forces seek to impede information from leaving Cuba, dissidents always find a way to express their opinions and to denounce all the crimes committed daily against those who do not agree with the government. They may distort the voice of Antunez, but he will continue protesting and joining in solidarity with other brave dissidents in the island. “Our utmost respect and admiration for Raul Risco, for the brave women of the Rosa Parks Movement, for the Ladies in White, for that giant of the Cuban resistance- Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia- who carries out an important role in the East of Cuba, fore the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Front, for Sara Marta Fonseca, and for all Cubans who fight for freedom in or out of the island“. He also acknowledged and thanked the Assembly of the Resistance, an umbrella group which includes more than 60 dissident groups both in and out of the country.
“Our brothers everywhere must know that in Cuba there is a wave of dissidents formed by young members, blacks, whites, country people, and all sorts of Cubans, and they are at the forefront of the struggle and that should be followed closely. My Cuban brothers, and all friends of Cuba, freedom is near“.