Cuba: Over Half of Dissidents Violently Arrested in September Were Women

Ladies in White, a women's dissident group that calls for the release of political prisoners, begin their weekly march in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, March 20, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama arrives Sunday afternoon for a three-day visit to Cuba, the first visit by a U.S. president to the island in …
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

A monthly report tracking politically motivated arrests in Cuba published this week revealed that over half the victims of these arrests, most members of pro-democracy dissident groups, were women, an indication the communist regime is systematically targeting women for repression.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), an NGO focused on documenting human rights abuses on the island, published a list of individuals arrested for political reasons every month. In September, the group documented 224 arbitrary arrests nationwide, the Cuban independent outlet 14 y medio reported on Wednesday. Of these arrests, 129 were arrests of women, while 69 men were taken into custody.

“Far more than half of the detentions [documented] happened to women, the majority of them members of the Ladies in White movement,” the CCDHRN noted in its monthly report.

The Ladies in White are a dissident group made up of the women relatives of political prisoners whose sole act of dissent is to attend Catholic Mass in silence on Sundays while wearing white and carrying the photos of their imprisoned loved ones. Every Sunday, with little to no pushback from the Vatican, the communist regime blocks the women from attending their local churches and typically arrests them with violence. The regime will also regularly use actos de repudio, or “acts of repudiation,” to intimidate the women, organizing angry mobs in front of the women’s homes to shout obscenities and threaten violence against them.

The leader of the Ladies in White group, Berta Soler, has been arrested every one of the past 159 Sundays, with the exception of the two Sundays following the death of longtime dictator Fidel Castro in 2016.

“We have decided, as fighters of human rights groups, to respect the [mourners’] pain, which we don’t share, so that the government does not take it as a provocation and so that they can pay their tributes,” Soler said at the time.

Soler was arrested three times in September. The penultimate arrest that month, on September 23, was caught on video. Soler attempted to stand silently outside of her home, the Havana headquarters of the Ladies in White group, holding a sign reading “revolution is repression.” Two Cuban state security agents approach her and violently restrain her; one of them sticks her fingers in Soler’s eyes, causing significant bleeding.

“Two guards came out to arrest me violently … one of them grabbed me by the shoulder, which she injured, and with the other hand grabbed my face,” Soler said in a video made shortly after the incident.

The CCDHRN describes most arrests of dissidents as being similar violations of human rights, occurring “under generally inhuman and degrading conditions, in police stations or other such locations.” Some dissidents who were not arrested did suffer violence; the NGO documented 23 instances of harassment and four outright physical assaults against peaceful protesters.

Speaking to 14 y medio, another member of the Ladies in White, Blanca Reyes, noted that the Castro regime has exhibited particular animosity towards women who call for a free society.

“In Cuba, there exists a particular cruelty on the part of the communist totalitarian government against all women and, in particular, against the Ladies in White,” Reyes said.

The Cuban communist regime has shifted its focus from keeping political prisoners in detention to repressing dissidents in other ways that make it more difficult for international human rights groups to track the abuses. Short-term arbitrary arrests are the most common form of this repression, though others have surfaced in the past five years. In one notable example, rather than keeping dissident Daniel Llorente in prison or charging him with a crime, the regime declared Llorente mentally unstable for “believing in God” and waving an American flag during a communist parade. Llorente spent over a year in a mental health facility, where he testified to being tortured and drugged, for his protest, but technically he does not count as a political prisoner because he was receiving “treatment.”

This week, Daisy Artiles, a Lady in White routinely arrested alongside Soler, was sentenced to three years of “correctional labor” without internment – meaning technically she is not imprisoned, but she is forced to perform slave labor for the regime and deprived of her ability to travel even within the country.

“That’s all it is, being in the home. I can’t leave the province, I can’t leave the country, I can’t have a passport,” Artiles told Martí Noticias on Thursday. “Every time they call me into a tribunal, I have to be there. I can no longer join the Ladies in White movement.”

The Castro regime used September as a high-profile opportunity to promote itself as a friendly investment locale despite its rampant human rights shortcomings in large part thanks to the United Nations General Assembly. Miguel Díaz-Canel, nominally the president of Cuba but subordinate to dictator Raúl Castro, made his first trip to New York, where he met with a variety of celebrities led by Robert De Niro to promote investment in the regime.

“I love going to Cuba, I did not know I was so known there, people took pictures of me, they followed me, I was surprised, it was something wonderful,” De Niro said at their meeting.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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