“Two women cause commotion in Havana”: Charito speaks after protest and arrest

Arrested for pots and pan protest in Havana’s Central Park, beaten, and confined in a dungeon for 3 days. She was fined for more than one thousand pesos and has a trial pending, which means she could soon go to prison for saying, out loud, what so many Cubans think.

Rosario Morales la Rosa. “Charito”. Lady in White.

After the pots and pans protest in Havana this past 14th of February which went around the world (see the video here),the Ladies in White Rosario Morales la Rosa- Charito– and Melkis Faure Echeverria were arrested by the political police, forcefully shoved into cop cars and taken to the Dragones Police Unit. But not before the everyday people defended them, affirmed Morales.

Charito, as she is best known amongst her friends and fellow dissidents, said she decided to carry out the protest (a kind of demonstration she is no stranger to) after having been detained three times in the same week. The arrests occurred on Wednesday when she was trying to visit the headquarters of the Ladies in White on Neptune   Street, in Havana, to participate in the activities honoring the fallen leader of the group, Laura Pollan, on her birthday. Each time Charito would try to make it to the event she was arrested and abandoned in a desolate and distant location known as Campo Florido, as occurred with many other women that day.

It was precisely during one of these detentions that a police agent, which Charito could not identify by name but instead by badge number- 01448– pointed a pistol at her head and threatened her with death. Before cracking at such a serious threat, the Cuban mother decided to publicly protest against the totalitarian system in Havana’s Central Park on the following day.

The pots and pans protest started to awaken people’s consciousness, both Cubans and tourists. First, they gathered around, staring, but then the police agents arrived“, recounts Charito, who was shouting social slogans alongside Melkis like ‘fair pay’ and ‘return economic assistance to the elderly’, “The police shut down traffic, they called for more police vehicles, and began to carry out arrests. But the people started making signs of solidarity to us; they were applauding us and repeated our messages“.

The dissident says that the police started to push all the people standing around, especially those who were filming with their cell phones and cameras. “Then they came up the steps and brutally arrested Mekis and I…many people followed us and were shouting ‘let them go, they are speaking the truth’“.

Charito was shoved into a police car, hurting her arm and foot during the process. One officer even “pulled me by my hair“, she said.

But amid the police aggressions, Charito explains that what she focused on was the fact that there was “human solidarity” on behalf of everyday Cubans and foreigners congregated around the vehicle where she was being held.

An Argentinean man (a tourist) followed me to the end. When they put me inside the car, a police agent pushed the Argentinean, and he threw his camera on the floor with violence. The tourist was very tall and he resisted, but the police finally twisted his arm and shoved him inside the vehicle, taking him to the Dragones Police Unit along with me“, she detailed.

Melkis Faure was also taken to the same Unit, but when both women saw each other, they had to be taken to the backyard of the center, because there was a large group of people conglomerated outside the building, protesting against the arrest and others finding out what had happened.

We could hear the police sirens. They were arresting more people. The Argentinean that was in the Unit told me that he was going to accuse the police for the physical blows he had received“, said Charito, who added that minutes later she was transferred to the Aguilera Polica Unit, while Melkis was kept in Dragones to be later released that night.

In the Aguilera Unit, Morales was confined to cell # 4, where she rapidly began her protest, refusing to eat any food and only drinking water from Thursday the 14th to Sunday the 17th, when she was released at around 5 PM.

I did not accept food, nor interviews with any of their agents“, declared Charito, “and then they accused me of altering the order. An official from Villa Marista (State Security) entered my cell on Saturday the 16th and told me that I had altered the public order and nearly started a massive uprising, that the people were really heated up with my protest, that we caused a commotion, and for this I had to go preventive prison“.

The response of the Lady in White was to accept the threat. “I told them that if they were going to take me to prison, well then I would carry out a protest and would rip all the uniforms they would give me“.

20 minutes after, the same agent returned to her cell and told her that she was being fined for 1,500 pesos (which she has not paid) and that she had to be confined to her house until they announce a trial date. “If I must go to trial, I will do it“, she said.

Upon leaving the dungeon on Sunday, Charito expressed her appreciation to all the people in and out of the country who echoed her case. In addition, she highlighted that the everyday citizens at the Park in Havana were very willing to carry out a large scale protest during the arrests. The activist cited another person, a mid-aged Cuban man, who she was not able to identify, who was also taken into custody at the Aguilera Unit at around 8 PM on Thursday night. This man told Charito that he had been detained for being at the park and criticizing the police violence.

That man told me that at least 30 tourists were detained and that the police was confiscating all cameras and cell phones of those present. He told me that agents desperately started to call out for reinforcements, for more police vehicles at the scene“.

I did not have enough time to even ask him his name“, says Charito, “because when the guards saw that we were talking, they took him away“.

Six Ladies in White staged a protest outside the Aguilera Police Unit after assisting Sunday Mass at Santa Rita Church along with Charito’s son, Reiner Biscet, to demand her liberation. The activist expressed that it was this pressure and solidarity that achieved her release, and that it was precisely also that same solidarity that made the regime tremble on that afternoon of February 14th.

In fact, this Wednesday 20th of February, former political prisoner Ivan Hernandez Carrillo tweeted (@ivanlibre) that the political police has set up a cordon around Havana’s Central Park since after Charito and Melkis’ protest, impeding anyone from getting close to the area where the demonstration took place.

(Below is the audio-testimony of Charito after being released on Sunday. In Spanish):

To contact Rosario Morales personally, call: +5353-857-319

“Two women cause commotion in Havana”: Charito speaks after protest and arrest

The Corner of the Indignant: Arrests, Fine, and Threats Cannot Destroy Independent and Popular Point of Sales

[A special thanks to Ivan Hernandez Carrillo (@ivanlibre) and activist Maria Cama (@mspianoteacher) for providing this interview]

Rosario Morales, better known as “Charito”, with some of the merchandise she sells in her independent sales spot

Rosario Morales La Rosa, better known amongst her friends as “Charito“, was expelled from her job in Cuba because of her participation in the Ladies in White.  Upon not being employed, Charito remained without any source of economic income, considering that she does not have any family in exile who provides her with remittances.  For this reason, the activist from Havana decided to take matters into her own hands and turned to self-employment, setting up a sales spot on Villa Panamericana in East Havana.  She named it “The Corner of the Indignant“, and she sells house products such as towels, bags, mops and coffee.  Despite the frequent threats by the political police and State Security agents dressed in civilian clothing, Charito has been working hard on her store, which she opens from Monday to Saturday (not Sundays because she has dedicated this day to the traditional march to church with the Ladies in White).

At around 2 pm on the afternoon of Friday, August 10th, 2012- as “The Corner of the Indignant” celebrated its 4 months of being established- 8 police vehicles stationed themselves outside the store.  According to Charito, the vehicles were full of police agents and inspectors, who kept a tight watch over her.  They soon interrupted her sales.

The agents walked up to where I was and told me that they were going to confiscate all my merchandise and that I had to leave with them to a police unit because as of that moment I was detained”, narrated Rosario, “I gathered all my merchandise and they took me to the police unit”.

Once in the unit, Captain Wilfredo Gonzalez, along with two inspectors, gave the activist a warning letter and fined her for 400 pesos.  In addition, “they told me that I could not return to that spot to sell and that I needed a license.  I told them that I am going to continue selling because work is a necessity for me.  I have worked all my life and I was left without employment.  I am not going to allow that my family dies of hunger…cost me what it may”.

Charito, along with other Ladies in White, demanding freedom for her then-jailed son

Charito denounced that she was also threatened with being applied with charges of disobedience “for selling illegally”.  To this accusation, the Lady in White replied, “I d0 not care what they all do, I am not going to apply for a license and I am going to continue selling.  They are going to have to take me to the police unit every single day and I am simply not going to pay the fine.  I am an independent self-employed seller and I am not going to allow that, with my own sweat, they higher the ranks of a police officer or an inspector”.

During her detention, the accustomed insults against groups of the internal opposition were not missing.  According to Charito, the agents told her that the Ladies in White were “counter-revolutionaries” and were paid by the “empire” (term used by the dictatorship to refer to the United States).

Nobody pays me anything”, assured Charito, “I am a Lady in White because I sympathize with the cause as I sympathized with the cause for the freedom of the 75 dissidents arrested in 2003″.   The activist is also known for the public protests she has carried out, among them the one in 2011 where she and another Lady in White- Ivonne Malleza Galano– carried out a demonstration at the Cuatro Camino Market- one of Havana’s most popular markets- demanding “food for our children” and “fair salaries”.  The everyday people joined the protest and both participants were jailed.

Ever since her involvement with the Ladies in White, Charito and her family have suffered constant threats at the hands of the regime’s forces.  In fact, her son Reinier Biscet Morales has been imprisoned and has received beatings by political police agents.

According to Charito’s testimonies, The Corner of the Indignant is a place of much patronage by everyday Cubans who come searching for products that are difficult to find throughout the country.  Charito has also said that people frequently congratulate her and have even defended her when she is harassed by the police.  In one specific case which occurred earlier this year (2012), a lady who had participated in a violent repudiation attack against Charito approached the store to buy a product she desperately needed for her child.  When both women realized what was happening, the lady- shocked and ashamed- asked Charito for forgiveness for what she had done.  Morales la Rosa told her that she did not have to ask her for forgiveness and gave her the product, free of charge.  The woman has not been seen anymore participating in state-sponsored acts of violence and repudiation against the Lady in White.

Charito was released from her detention at around 7 PM on the night of that same Friday, August 10th.  Although they did not confiscate her merchandise, she was released under orders that she had to pay the fine (#234590) and that she could not continue selling.

Tomorrow I am going to go back to selling, cost me whatever it may.  I am neither going to pay the fine nor am I going to stop selling because I am not going to die of hunger and misery.  I am tired, I am going to keep selling until the final consequences”, affirmed Rosario “Charito” Morales La Rosa.

Ivonne Malleza (left) and Rosario Morales during pots and pan demonstration in Cuatro Camino Market in Havana. 2011.

The following is an audio of Rosario Morales narrating what happened in her arrest, courtesy of former political prisoner and independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo:

The Corner of the Indignant: Arrests, Fine, and Threats Cannot Destroy Independent and Popular Point of Sales