Cuba’s political police have arrested 163 people for protesting to demand the release of jailed Cuban dissidents, as well as Venezuelan political prisoners Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. A crackdown on Sunday saw 70 people detained in Havana, with the remaining 93 rounded up in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.
The majority of those arrested are members of dissident groupings the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), Ladies in White, and Citizens for Democracy.
Of those arrested in Santiago de Cuba, at least eight were beaten by police officers. One of the activists, Yriade Hernández Aguilera, was left unconscious after police hit her on the head repeatedly.
Unpacu leader José Daniel Ferrer told the PanAm Post that police forced 30 members of Ladies in White, a group originally formed by the spouses of political prisoners, to remain for “in very uncomfortable positions” for a long period of time.
Such arrests form part of the usual Sunday routine for many of these women, Ferrer explained. The women and men that attend the mass at the church of Santa Rita in Havana, a rallying point for the Ladies in White, have been intimidated by police and arrested for multiple weeks running.
However, Sunday, May 24, proved different from the norm, as the political police attempted to prevent the Ladies in White from attending the mass itself. The women were arrested for carrying images of the faces of political prisoners at key points throughout the Cuban capital.
Meanwhile, in Santiago de Cuba, agents of the communist regime detained people seeking to attend the mass at the city’s emblematic Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity, with the intention of praying and manifesting their concern for Cuban and Venezuelan political prisoners.
The Art of War in Cuba
Ferrer emphasized that arrests in Santiago are becoming increasingly violent.
“This is like a game of chess: on seeing they were blocking us from arriving at the sanctuary, we left in different groups and spoke out in parks, streets, and at bus stops, fixing images of the political prisoners to the walls, and this unnerved the political police,” he related.
He activist added that, at least within Unpacu, dissidents are putting into practice the teaching of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. “When they’re waiting for you in one place, act in another. They don’t know where the activity, the discussion, the speech to the people is going to take place,” Ferrer said.
Those detained in Santiago de Cuba were the first to be freed, staying in the cells a little over three hours. “The remainder were released between 8 and 9 a.m.,” the Unpacu leader reported, with the final seven prisoners let out around 10 a.m. local time.
Artists Fair Game for Regime Police
Among those arrested over the weekend were Gorki Águila, leader of punk-rock band Porno para Ricardo, who was kept in a cell for 24 hours; and performance artist Tania Bruguera, detained for between one and two hours.
State security agents detained Águila on Saturday for carrying a poster with a photo of graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado and the word “freedom.”
Maldonado was arrested on December 25 for setting loose a pair of pigs daubed with the names Fidel and Raúl, in reference to the former and current presidents of Cuba.
Águila was freed on Sunday after spending 23 hours in jail.
“I stuck up the poster right in front of the Bellas Artes Museum, and they fell upon me right away,” said the leader of the anti-Castro music group.
The agents who arrested him were “dressed like civilians, and the car they shoved me in was a Geely make and dark green in color,” he added, claiming that the undercover police “almost strangled me” during the “violent” arrest.
Bruguera was meanwhile arrested for “releasing some doves into the air as an expression of resistance against totalitarianism."
According to the latest report released by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, at least 552 arrests of peaceful protesters were carried out by the Cuban government in April, of which 337 were of women.
“It’s striking and worrying that while the Cuban government tries to construct a positive image at the international level, it doesn’t cease its intolerant and repressive behaviour towards the rights and freedoms of those who try to exercise them outside of official dictates,” the report stated.