After canceling their silent protest for two weeks to avoid antagonizing the communist government following the death of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Ladies in White dissident group took the streets on Sunday, the weekend of International Human Rights Day.
The Spain-based Diario de Cuba cites Cuban dissidents on the ground who state that at least ten members of the group were arrested for protesting the communist regime. Five were arrested during their protest calling for political, religious, and expressive freedom, while five were “intercepted on the way [to the protest] to prevent them from restarting the ‘We All March’ campaign,” according to activist Ailer González.
Among those arrested was Ángel Moya, a former political prisoner and husband of Ladies in White leader Berta Soler. Diario de Cuba reports that Moya was “thrown on the floor and beaten,” his beating followed by a mob attack on the Ladies in White headquarters.
The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) are a group of wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of political prisoners on the island. For the past 13 years, the group gathers every Sunday to attend Catholic Mass in Havana, dressed in white and silently holding the photos of their loved ones. They are routinely arrested, beaten, and dragged in the streets.
For the first time in over a decade, Soler called off the silent March on November 27, to prevent state police from using the excuse of Fidel Castro’s death to arrest and physically harm the group’s members.
“We have decided, as fighters of human rights groups, to respect the pain, which we don’t share,” Soler said in a statement, adding the canceled protests were also “so that the government does not take it as a provocation and so that they can pay their tributes.”
On Sunday, the protest resumed, though Soler notes that the church no longer allows them to practice their Catholic faith there. In an interview with the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Soler noted that Catholic churches had begun to deny them the right to attend Mass on Sundays. While some smaller churches had begun to ban the Ladies from praying there since last year, this is the first time Santa Rita, the Havana church most of the Ladies frequented, had done the same. Under Pope Francis, the church has distanced itself from the human rights struggle in Cuba, with the pope himself denying awareness of the arrest of a political dissident that occurred in front of him in Havana.
Univisión 23’s Mario Vallejo posted video of the protest on Facebook:
Diario de Cuba notes that, concerned about the International Human Rights Day holiday, Cuban police also placed a number of political dissidents on house arrest without providing a reason. Among them Lía Villares and Gorki Águila, members of the anti-communist punk band Porno para Ricardo.
During the International Human Rights Day weekend last year, Raúl Castro’s communist regime began to re-imprison political prisoners that Castro had agreed to release as part of a deal with President Barack Obama, following Obama’s announcement that he would seek to legitimize the Castro regime with the resuming of diplomatic relations. The Ladies in White suffered the customary oppression, with communists scheduling a pro-Castro rally to occur in between their headquarters, Soler’s house, and the church they typically visited.
Repression has increased in 2016, according to the NGO Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). Cuba is on track to record 10,000 politically-motivated arrests in 2016, nearly 2,000 more than in 2015. Many of these occurred following Fidel Castro’s death — both arrests of dissidents openly cheering Castro’s death and dissidents arrested to prevent them from any such public expression.