The Cuban communist government has arrested 100 women affiliated with the dissident group the Ladies in White–friends and family of male political prisoners–for organizing a march on Sunday to commemorate the mass drowning of refugees twenty years ago this weekend.
The Ladies in White had assembled, as they do legally every Sunday, to stage a peaceful protest against the communist government’s repression of those who disagree politically with the regime. According to the Agence France-Presse, the Cuban government broke up the march as it commemorated a special theme this week. While the Ladies in White march for the freedom of their friends and family members each week, this Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of the March 13 Tugboat Massacre, during which the Cuban government deliberately sank a tugboat attempting to reach the United States, killing 37 people, including 10 children.
The government has routinely denied its role in the massacre, claiming that the tugboat sinking was an “accident” and keeping the news out of official media.
In addition to being arrested, the government organized a rowdy group of alleged supporters to shout and disparage the protesters, yelling “Viva Fidel, Viva Raul” at them as they were taken into custody. The women were arrested before laying flowers symbolically in honor of those killed on the March 13 tugboat.
Prominent dissidents in Cuba believe that the arrests represent the government’s apprehension that the Ladies in White are becoming too sympathetic to the Cuban people, as well as a fear that the real events leading to the deaths of 37 people on the tugboat will become common knowledge in Cuba, where few know it even happened. Prominent hunger strike protester and Sakharov Prize winner Guillermo Fariñas told the AFP, “I think the Cuban government is pulling out all the stops to keep the Ladies in White from growing. That explains so many arrests on Sunday.”
Cuba has broken political prisoner arrest records in 2014, arresting more than 1,000 citizens for overt expressions of political dissidence in May. Many of those arrested are arrested repeatedly, as the arrests do not deter their political activism, particularly the members of the Ladies in White and dissidents like Fariñas and Jorge Luis García “Antúnez.”
The arrests arrive as Cuba is set to receive economic perks from friendly nations like Russia and China. Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Cuba on Friday, and he promised the Cuban regime that he would forgive 90% of the nation’s debt to Russia, mostly accumulated during the days of the Soviet Union. The Russian government has also remarked on the possibility of building a maritime port in Cuba, merely 90 miles away from America. Next week, Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to land on the island for trade negotiations.