Cuban police stormed into the home of Leticia Ramos Herrería, a member of the Ladies in White dissident group, and confiscated toys the group had collected to distribute in celebration of the Christian feast day of Epiphany.
“Police executed an operation at the home of Leticia Ramos Herrería without her being present and took all the toys away that she had bought to distribute to more than 200 children this Three Kings’ Day,” according to Cuba’s dissident leader Martha Beatriz Roque, using another name common for the holiday.
“They took everything,” Berta Soler, the head of the Ladies in White group, lamented to Martí Noticias. The Spain-based Diario de Cuba adds that two of Ramo Herrería’s relatives, her son and brother, were beaten during the siege on her home.
While Epiphany is a pan-Christian holiday, Latin American Catholics and Spaniards hold special celebrations on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas. The celebration is intended to observe the arrival of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. As the wise men brought gifts with them to the manger, it is traditional to give children toys as presents on this day.
The Ladies in White are a group of mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives of Cuban prisoners of conscience. They are a Catholic group, and their main act of protest is to attend Catholic Mass on Sundays dressed in white, then silently march home holding photos of their loved ones, imprisoned for their opposition to Communism. They are not alone in openly celebrating Epiphany as a symbolic protest — the family of Danilo Maldonado Machado, an artist known more commonly as “El Sexto,” organized a party for local Havana children on Friday and shared cake and a piñata with them.
Maldonado was arrested in November for publicly celebrating the death of dictator Fidel Castro on the streets of Havana. His mother says Cuban police have assaulted him on multiple occasions while in custody, denying him medication to control his asthma. Maldonado was moved to a maximum security prison after repeatedly shouting, “down with Castro,” from his prison cell. He has yet to be charged with a crime.
As with most Catholic holidays, the Cuban Communist Party did away with Three Kings’ Day early in its half-century tenure. According to the Diario de Cuba, the Castro regime only reinstated a version of Three Kings’ Day in the 1990s: Children’s Day, a secular holiday in July meant to combat the influence of a resurgence in Christmas celebrations organized by the Spanish embassy in the country.
Private acts of Christian celebration are still subject to censure, however, as in the case of the Ladies in White toy drive. In another instance of Christian oppression, a 70-year-old Cuban-American man was arrested in 2015 for organizing an inflatable Santa Claus display in Havana.
January 6 continues to be a day of celebration, however, and parents do attempt to purchase toys to give their children. Cuba boasts few toy stores, however, with limited supplies at exorbitant prices. An employee of one Cuban toy store estimated to Cubanet that toy prices typically triple shortly before the holiday.
While many dissidents adhere to the Christian faith, the Vatican has largely done little to aid their work to liberate the island. Some priests have banned the Ladies in White from attending their Masses, while Pope Francis met with Fidel Castro before his death and called the nonagenarian’s overdue demise “sad news” in a condolence missive to dictator Raúl Castro.