“Why Do You Fight”? That is the question which blogger, writer, photographer and activist Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal asked various of dissidents in Cuba in his latest documentary, produced from within the island.
The reasons which the interviewees give are diverse, but they all coincide in that the Cuban dictatorship destroys freedom for all citizens and that they (dissidents) not only fight for their individual rights, but also for the rights of the entire nation.
Rojas Rosabal interviewed José Daniel Ferrer García (former political prisoner), Marta Díaz Rondon (Lady in White), Caridad Caballero Batista (Lady in White) , Tania Montoya (Lady in White) , Raumel Vinajera (former political prisoner) , Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina (former political prisoner) and Reina Luisa Tamayo (mother of assassinated political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo). In addition, the film includes some everyday images of Cuba taken by Rojas himself.
“Why do you Fight?” was published through the YouTube account of Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, also an independent blogger and photographer and includes English subtitles.
Once again, the Lady in White Caridad Caballero Batista and her husband Esteban Sandez Suarez were impeded from assisting Catholic Mass this past Sunday, April 15th, in the city of Holguin. It was the 17th consecutive Sunday that these activists could not attend Mass to pray for Cuba.
Caballero explained that it was a “terrible” moment of “much violence“, when they were walking to church at around 8 AM and were intercepted by various police agents which began to arrest them immediately.
“They nearly broke our fingers this time“, said Caballero, “in Esteban’s case, one of the agents applied a headlock on him and strangled him. His neck is now swollen“. The activist says that the acts of aggression occurred before the eyes of everyday citizens. The repressive operation was carried out by State Security official Jordanys Martinez Leon. The dissident adds that Martinez Leon was accompanied by various women of the Ministry of the Interior and other functionaries from State Security and from the National Police.
The dissident couple was kept in a dark and foul-smelling dungeon in the Pedernales Unit, this time until 3 PM. They are usually kept until 11:30 AM or 12 PM, as soon as Sunday Mass ends, as a form of blackmail and as a taunt.
In addition, the cell phones of Caridad and Esteban were blocked by the regime before and during the arrest, impeding them from communicating with other human rights activists in the region.
Regardless, Caballero was able to confirm that Berta Guerrero Segura, a Lady in White from Cacocum, Holguin, was also arrested on her way to church. In addition to Segura, “three other Ladies- Vaniuska Suarez, Lisete Gonzalez, and Odenis Suarez- were also arrested. They were on their way to Holguin when police agents forcefully made them get off the bus they were on at around 5 AM“, said Caballero. These three women were detained in the police unit of Velazco for various hours that Sunday. The police agents confiscated the white clothes the women were carrying with them.
Meanwhile, in the municipality of Banes, Holguin, three Ladies in White were able to make it to the local Catholic Church. These were Marta Diaz Rondon, Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez, and Miladis Pinales. Rondon told this blog that, as tends to occur, they peacefully marched amid a strong vigilance on behalf of State Security and the National Revolutionary Police. Various weekends have passed where these women have been able to surpass police operations, yet they are persecuted until they arrive at church, where the agents wait outside until Mass has concluded. Afterward, the officers follow the women back home, insulting them and taunting them all along the way.
From Palma Soriano, Tania Montoya said that more than a dozen Ladies in white made it to El Cobre Sanctuary, while another group was arrested. Montoya highlighted that she and other Ladies in White have turned to methods of “crossing fields and rivers” in order to surpass police operations and arrive to the Sanctuary. “There are usually very strong police operations in the exits of Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, and other towns“, explained the activist, “this is all done in order to impede us from moving freely“.
It is precisely because of these operations that an activist from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Omar Naranjo, decided to join the women in solidarity and help them cross grasslands in order to make it to the other side. However, upon arriving to the town of El Cobre, various police agents were already waiting. These same agents violently arrested Naranjo.
Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Still Jailed
Tania Montoya explained that along with her husband, Raumel Vinajera, they put together some signs with messages in favor of the release of former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who has been once again confined to a dungeon and has been there for two weeks. It was reported that on Monday, April 16th, various of these signs propped up throughout the town of Palma Soriano and they all had messages demanding freedom for Ferrer.
Caridad Caballero said to be “very worried” about the situation of Jose Daniel, considering that he has been victim of constant violence and that the authorities can easily revoke his Black Spring sentence if they so desire. When it comes to the treatment of human rights activists in Cuba, Caballero assures that the Cuban regime “has no mercy with anyone“.
The Lady in White Belkis Cantillo Ramirez was released from prison during the evening hours of Friday, April 6th. Ramirez had her home raided by a large number of political police agents and suffered a brutal arrest on April 2nd along with her husband, the leading dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who is still detained. The arrests of the couple was part of a repressive crackdown in Eastern Cuba which resulted in 43 arrests of human rights activists.
Cantillo Ramirez spoke with ‘Marti Noticias’, offering details about her arrest. “The political police broke into our home…they dragged me, they hit me on the head, they hit me on my stomach, on my breasts, everywhere“, the dissident explains, adding that her sister-in-law was also beat. In the case of Jose Daniel, Cantillo explains that he was taken, by force, out of the house without a shirt or shoes. According to testimonies of an activist who shared a cell with Ferrer Garcia and who was recently released, Ferrer remains in a jail cell in the same fashion he was taken out of his house.
The three children of Belkis and Jose Daniel witnessed all of the violence. The eldest of the daughters, 14 year old Martha Beatriz Ferrer, also explained to ‘Marti Noticias’ that, as her parents were being arrested, the police officers also confiscated books, cameras, phones, magazines, and even a frame with the photo of Laura Pollan, fallen leader of the Ladies in White.
On Saturday afternoon, the young Cuban explained to the same news agency that she was physically and verbally assaulted by regime agents as she was on her way to the El Cobre Sanctuary of Santiago de Cuba, in order to participate in Sunday Mass alongside other Ladies in White.
Meanwhile, Tania Montoya (also a Lady in White) informed that her husband, activist Raumel Vinajera, was still jailed as well in the police unit known as “Micro 9″. Vinajera was also arrested on April 2nd in his own home located in Palma Soriano. Montoya told this blog that the dissident Hector Felix Labrada was recently released from Micro 9 and he was sharing a cell with Vinajera. “He [Labrada] told me that my husband had very strong pains on his head and was suffering from dizziness“, explained the Lady in White, adding that “this is all because they beat him so much when they arrested him…it is very alarming“.
Montoya denounced that, just as it was done to Jose Daniel Ferrer and Belkis Cantillo, “our home was raided and they took everything- signs, magazines, books, etc. They also broke into the home of Raumel’s mother“. The same happened in the house of activist Aurora Martin, where according to Montoya “the agents broke off the railings around the house and raided the home, beating all those inside and then taking them jailed“. Among those beaten in the house was a sister of Aurora who “passed out” due to the amount of violence she received.
“The sister of Aurora suffered many beatings to the point that she lost consciousness and passed out. In the same fashion, they shoved her into a police vehicle. In addition, Aurora’s daughter was there with her 3 month old daughter. They also received physical blows, and even the little one received a blow on one of her legs“, added Tania Montoya.
The Lady in White described the repression as a “wave of terror” and informed that this wave continued through Friday, April 6th. “Today, April 6th, we confirmed that Jorge Cervantes Garcia (Contramaestre) and Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria (Moa) were both violently arrested“.
Furthermore, the dissident narrates that she and other Ladies in White were able to make it to Mass this past 6th of April, precisely on Good Friday. “Once inside the church we prayed to our Lord Jesus Christ so that he give us strength to withstand all of this and to please bring freedom to Cuba“. Montoya also prayed for the dissidents who remain behind bars, among them José Daniel Ferrer, Dani López de Moya, Adriana Núñez, Santiago Castellanos and her husband Raumel Vinajera. Amnesty International also released an urgent action report, echoing the situation of the jailed activists.
“Here in Cuba, on one hand the regime releases some from prison while, on the other, they detain more“, expressed Tania Montoya, affirming that despite what may happen, this Sunday she will march to church, as will many other women throughout the island.
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!
(Wednesday, October 5th 2011)- Amid candles, signs, and prayers, a vigil was held in Miami’s famous Versailles Restaurant for the immediate and unconditional release of Sara Marta Fonseca, her husband Julio Leon Perez, and all Cuban political prisoners. Every Wednesday, a vigil is held in Versailles by the group of former prisoners who help Cuba’s internal resistance directly, known as “Plantados” in demand for the freedom of Cuba’s constant victims of repression and imprisonment. This time, the event also counted on the participation of other groups, as well as former prisoner from the group of the 75 and recently exiled Ladies in White.
The event officially began with a prayer as all the candles began to light up. Then some of those who were present shared a few words- among them former political prisoners Angel de Fana, Huber Matos, and Fidel Suarez Cruz. Many participants carried signs with photos not only of Sara Marta but also of other women who have suffered countless acts of repression and violence in recent days, women like Yris Tamara Aguilera, Marta Diaz Rondon, Caridad Caballero Batista, Laura Pollan, Belkis Cantillo, Aimee Garces and many others.
More than anything, the vigil proved (as it has been proven on many occasions) that Cubans can come together, despite various groups and ideologies, to demand freedom for all their sisters and brothers on the island.
The following is a video of the Vigil. One can clearly see the solidarity displayed that night:
Orlando Zapata Tamayo (right) and Pedro Luis Boitel (left)
In response to the ‘Boitel and Zapata Live’ National March for Cuban Freedom, the Cuban authorities have taken every possible measure in their attempt to deter a people who demand rights and freedom for an entire nation.
One of these waves of repression occurred Friday, September 9th in Eastern Cuba- specifically in Palma Soriano, a region which, according to former prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, has been “totally militarized” as product of a rising level of activism, which increased after the home of dissident Marino Antomarchi, full of dissidents, was attacked with tear gas.
In the midst of this strict vigilance, Angel Moya Acosta, also former prisoner of conscience and coordinator for the National Boitel Zapata March, was able to find a way to get to Palma Soriano. Along with Jose Daniel Ferrer and other dissidents like Tania Montoya, Raudel Avila, Francisco Macias, and Raumel Vinajera, they all noticed that political police agents were surrounding homes of dissidents in order to impede free movement and the March. Jose Daniel Ferrer recounts that, “the agents wanted to force us to stay in our homes, but one of the agreements we reached for the march was to refuse our houses as prison cells“, continuing, “so we stepped out, and an agent dressed in civilian clothes told us it was not permitted. Upon us not accepting this, the agent grew very nervous, as their were no uniformed officers nearby to detain us. However, they quickly arrived and grabbed us by the arms and shoved us in police cars“.
This “hunt for dissidents“, as Jose Daniel describes it, was headed by Major Dorkis. “Dorkis led this hunt throughout the entire city, arresting various dissidents like Francisco Castellano, Tania Montoya, and many others“, explains the former prisoner.
The participants of the march were taken arrested to diverse police units, while some were dropped off 70-90 kilometers from Palma Soriano, leaving them in desolate roads and therefore making it impossible for them to return in time to participate in the march. Ferrer Garcia narrates his experience in the dungeons for 3 days:
“In the detainment unit we suffered physical abuses at the hands of police officers and agents of the Ministry“. First came the violent search of the dissident’s belongings and bodies. “One of the agents stomped on my feet, I still have the marks to prove it. Angel Moya was thrown on the concrete floor and pushed down, searching him by force“. Tania Montoya was not only searched but also was victim of a form of sexual abuse. “More than 7 female police officers forcibly stripped her clothes off and searched her so thoroughly that they even stuck one of their fingers in her vagina“, denounced Ferrer.
Afterward, Ferrer was thrown in a “pestilent dungeon, which was 4 squared meters and which already had 6 men inside. It was terribly hot“. In addition, “there was very little water and we were given horrible nutrition“. Ferrer was able to firsthand witness the abuses committed against the common prisoners being held in that center, although it was not something alien to him, considering that he had just been released from serving 7 years behind the bars since the Black Spring of 2003. One of the worst abuses against the prisoners, according to Garcia, is medical negligence, as well as the conditions in which they have to live (sealed off cells) and sleep (on the concrete floor). In his own case, he also had to sleep on the cement floor for 3 days, with the same clothes he had on the day of his arrest and without access to hygiene products.
“In some sort of way, I had lots of space in comparison with other brothers in cause and common prisoners who had to share a small cell with 12 others, amid all that heat, filth, and poor diet“, he explains.
Jose Daniel Ferrer and Angel Moya Acosta were released on the third day of their arrest. In Moya’s case, he has already been intercepted after that detainment. As of now, the exact details are not yet available but it was reported on September 15th that Moya, along with other dissidents, had been arrested again in Santa Clara, as he tried to coordinate the same march. Some other names of those arrested alongside him are Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, Idania Yanez, Damaris Moya, and Guillermo Farinas.
Despite the fact that various headlines have attempted to distract international attention from what is occurring in Cuba, this Sunday August 28th was the 6th consecutive Sunday in which dozens of dissidents- mainly women- have been violently attacked by the regime’s forces. And, each passing day, the methods of repression are more ‘sophisticated’.
This time, the acts of hate began on Saturday when dissidents attempted to get to Palma Soriano in order to assist mass at the Cathedral of Santiago and to march with the Ladies in White on Sunday. Early that morning at around 8 am Caridad Caballero Batista and Marta Diaz Rondon were aboard a car on their way to Palma Soriano, arriving at Bayamo. Upon arriving to this city, the women noticed that there were already motorcycles and police cars belonging to State Security and the Revolutionary Police stationed around the area. It was at that moment that the agents forced the vehicle to pull over. Around 15 uniformed officers walked towards the car.
“After forcing the car to abruptly pull over“, narrates Diaz Rondon, “they dragged us out all the way into a police car. They put me in one and Caridad in another“. Inside the car both women were beat and insulted. Caridad Caballero points out that she suffered various violent blows, including a punch which broke her lips. “The person who hit me in the mouth was a man, a very tall and corpulent police officer. After hitting me in the mouth he told me he was going to break my neck“, she explains. The dissident was also choked and suffered a fracture in a finger of her hand.
They were then taken to a police center in Bayamo where they were “once again dragged throughout the floor into an office” just to be threatened and interrogated. “They were also performing locks on our necks“, explains Marta Diaz Rondon, in reference to a martial arts technique in which the attackers wrap their arms around the victims neck in a choke hold. While applying those same “locks” they dragged the women various times up and down steps to be taken into different offices, all the while suffering injuries in their backs, legs, arms, and necks.
After being held in that detainment center for a few hours, the functionaries decided that they would have to check them to see if they carried any important objects with them. The objects commonly snatched were cameras, voice recorders, pens, cell phones, or laptops. Although the women had none of this, the men ordered the other women functionaries to take off the clothes of Diaz and Caballero. “They wanted to strip us naked in front of the men while they screamed some very ugly words to us, words so ugly that I am ashamed of repeating“, explains Rondon. Caballero adds, “The men were making some sexual gestures with their fingers as they told the women to lower our pants. They were telling us that they were going to do things to us with their fingers, they were grabbing their testicles, and they used very strong and ugly words“.
Caballero Batista and Diaz Rondon were then taken to an instructions center in Holguin where they were kept in a dungeon which Rondon classified as “inhumane”. “It was a cell where all the windows were completely covered by concrete, it was very dark, we couldn’t tell if it was time or nighttime outside and it smelt very strong of urine“, she recounts. In Holguin, the women were handed a warning letter which stated that they had committed acts of public disorder. “But we didn’t cause disorder,” declares Diaz Rondon, “the disorder was on behalf of those who beat and mistreated us. We are just peaceful women armed with our white flowers and our words, demanding freedom for all Cuban political prisoners“.
They were kept in that detention center until the morning of Sunday, August 28th, 24 hours later.
Anti-riot squads, tear gas, violent arrests
Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia
Meanwhile, Palma Soriano was once again the scene of escalated violence against the Ladies in White, other dissidents, and neighbors who had joined in solidarity, the same way it has been for the past Sundays of July and August. 13 Ladies in White tried leaving from the home of Aimee Garces Leyva in order to assist mass but were quickly and violently impeded by government forces. They then received a beating and were also thrown aboard an bus. Among those 13 women were Tania Montoya, Belkis Cantillo, Aimee Garces, and Berta Soler who traveled from Matanzas in order to support her Eastern sisters. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who has been reporting all this news from his Twitter account, warned that it was possible that that Tania Montoya had “suffered a fractured arm” after such a brutal beating.
Ferrer Garcia also condemned that soldiers used tear gas against the home of Marino Antomarchi where 26 dissidents were meeting. Also inside was the family of the house which includes a small 2 year old. “They were asphyxiating the people inside. They had to taken the small girl out by the back window. They then arrested one of the dissidents while the other 25 remained inside and while the government kept launching tear gas at them“. Ferrer, as well as Luis Felipe Rojas, then sent out urgent Twitter messages reporting that anti-riot troops, armed with shields and weapons, had entered the town and invaded the home of Antomarchi, violently arresting men and women. On the morning of Monday August 29th Luis Felipe sent out another tweet condemning “dozens of arrests, raids, and injured activists was the outcome of the dark spectacle carried out by anti-raid troops in Palma Soriano“.
Various homes in that same area were surrounded by police forces including that of Raudel Avila and Tania Montoya, and that of Maximiliano Sanchez in Palmarito de Cauto. Ferrer Garcia also denounced that police officials that were surrounding homes were heavily armed “even with clubs“.
Solidarity among neighbors was not absent, either. “A young man from the neighborhood, already bothered by so many abuses“, narrates the former political prisoner of conscience, “ran out of his house and screamed ‘down with Fidel’ and was quickly beaten and arrested“. This act has been yet another display of nonconformity in the midst of so much unmeasurable violence, another sign of solidarity with the Cuban resistance. Sunday after Sunday, violence against dissidents has been increasing and each time non-dissident neighbors intercede to defend the oppressed and in turn, in the majority of times they are beaten and detained as well. Every time more people join in, whether it be in Eastern Cuba or in other provinces, as was witnessed in the protest in the Cuatro Caminos Market of Havana, organized by Ivonne Mallesa Galano and Rosario Morales Darrosa, and where more than 300 everyday Cubans joined in.
Physical blows, shoves, stonings, arrests, threats, torture with German Shepherds, launching tear gas, and the use of anti-riot troops form part of the repressive machinery which the Cuban dictatorship has been applying against the non-violent resistance. “The situation continues to be very tense“, states Ferrer Garcia, “and it will continue that way because our people have maintained their firm attitude and have decided to continue protesting peacefully against the violence applied by the police police of the Castro brother dictatorship“.
Marta Diaz Rondon declares, “they think that by hitting us we are going to grow fearful, but it will not happen. We are going to continue taking to the streets and protesting until there is freedom in Cuba and until there is not a single political prisoner“. She went on to state that dissidents are not afraid, “rather the oppressors are the ones that are afraid because they know that the day when more people join the opposition and that Cuba will be free is very near“. Caridad Caballero reiterated that same persistence and faith in victory, “They do not want us to keep on but we are not going to stop, we will continue. They’ll have to kill us, but we’re not stopping“.
Despite the immense bravery of these dissidents and so many others that suffer such violence, not just every Sunday but every single day, and not only in Eastern Cuba but in all of the island, the level of repression practiced by the regime is alarming. Each time they apply new, more dangerous, methods like the use of tear gas and anti-riot squads. During these days, the memory of dignified Cubans who gave their lives in hope to achieve freedom- Cubans like Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Pedro Luis Boitel- are more present than ever. Cuba does not need more martyrs, but if it has to be that way there are dissidents that are willing to hold that torch high. But it is the duty of us Cubans living outside to prevent another fatal outcome. Along with the international media, we cannot ignore what is occurring inside of the island.