Communist Party authorities in Cuba arrested the mothers of two 11-year-old girls beaten by police last week while trying to defend the father of one of them from a violent assault by police during a protest, human rights activists confirmed on Wednesday.
The arrest of one of the mothers — Ivonne Breijo, whose 11-year-old daughter Beatriz suffered rib injuries and a fever from the police brutality this weekend — was allegedly caught on video on Wednesday. Images of at least six police agents detaining the woman in broad daylight began circulating on Facebook.
The other mother was identified as Daimarelis Echeverría Bielsa, arrested when she approached police officers to inquire about the whereabouts of her husband, José Armando Torrente — the man police intended to arrest when beating the girls. Her daughter, Gerlin Torrente Echevarría, also suffered brutal physical aggression at the hands of police while attempting to protect her father.
Torrente was reportedly beaten unconscious while marching in a peaceful protest and taken away as his daughter and two other girls tried to fight police to keep them away. He remains missing at press time.
The incidents occurred in Nuevitas, Camagüey, Cuba, where protests attracted hundreds of people last weekend in response to months of near-daily electrical blackouts that had made much of life impossible in the town, including preserving citizens’ limited food supply and enduring the high heat of summer. Images of residents marching peacefully, shouting slogans against the regime, and demanding access to electric power traveled the world last weekend largely due to the world of a Nuevitas mother named Mayelín Rodríguez Prado, who was arrested on Saturday, presumably for filming the protests and remains in police custody at press time.
Rodríguez livestreamed the arrest of José Armando Torrente and the police beating of three 11-year-old girls. Given the electrical blackout and the darkness of night, little can be seen in the video, though voices of children screaming and women shouting, “they are girls!” fit the descriptions the girls later gave of the incident.
“I was holding on to my dad, and she was holding on to my dad, and then, to arrest my dad, the police had to hit us,” one of the girls, presumably 11-year-old Gerlin Torrente Echevarría, said in a video shared online that night. Another girl admitted to trying to hit police officers.
“I also hit them because they hit me,” said the girl.
The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, a non-governmental watchdog group, reportedly confirmed the arrest of mother Ivonne Breijo’s arrest on Thursday. According to the Spain-based outlet Diario de Cuba, the Observatory had published audio of Breijo denouncing the police for assaulting her daughter, detailing inflammation in the 11-year-old’s ribs and that the girl had suffered a fever after the beating.
An official with the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights confirmed on Thursday to the U.S.-based Cuban news outlet Radio Martí that Daimarelis Echeverría Bielsa, mother to one of the other girls, was also arrested when she attempted to seek information about her imprisoned husband.
“She was detained precisely when she went to find out about her husband’s situation,” strategy directory for the group, Yaxis Cires, said. “We are really worried about the situation because that would be not just the husband who is unjustly detained, but her as well, which causes significant damage to that family.”
Ivonne Breijo’s cousin, Abel Ultra Montenegro, said in an interview with the independent outlet Cubanet on Thursday that Nuevitas is currently “militarized” and police had used a trailer truck to block one of the main bridges into and out of the city. He claimed police were using drones to monitor civilian activity in the city.
He also said that, in addition to harassing the adults in the family, police had taken in 11-year-old Beatriz for “questioning” on Wednesday.
“State Security picked her [Beatriz] up in the morning and brought her home around 11 at night,” Montenegro said, accusing police of treating the girls “like terrorists” and placing intelligence agents on the rooftops of their homes to monitor their activities.
Montenegro described Beatriz as “traumatized” after returning from a day of police interrogation and accused police of “grabbing [her] by the neck.”
“In Nuevitas, every day for the last two months the blackouts last more than half the day, people can’t sleep, and some can’t even cook,” Montenegro observed.
Nuevitas, in eastern Cuba, is the latest hotspot to erupt in popular unrest, though Cuba has seen nearly incessant protests against the communist regime for over a year since the nationwide protest on July 11, 2021, that called for an end to communism in the country.
Cubans have been engaging in ongoing protests for freedom for decades. In addition to protesting communist repression, Cubans have been demanding an end to the regime in response to its economic and government incompetence, including failing to maintain a functioning power grid, a reliable food supply, any semblance of a healthcare system for citizens, education, or basic infrastructure. Avoidable incidents like gas leaks leading to explosions and buildings crumbling apart on their own are common occurrences in the nation’s largest cities.
Justicia 11J, an organization monitoring politically motivated arrests in Cuba, has documented at least 18 arrests in relation to the Nuevitas protests alone as of Thursday despite the lack of evidence of any violent or criminal activity on the part of protesters.
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