Berta Soler, the leader of the Cuban anti-communist group Ladies in White, reported the violent arrests of about 40 dissidents earlier this week who attempted to gather in a public park. The women were beaten, some severely, for trying to meet.
The Ladies in White are a group of anti-Castro dissidents comprised of the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of political prisoners. They typically meet on Sundays to attend Catholic Mass together wearing white. They also bring with them images of their loved ones who are still prisoners of conscience on the island.
The group also engages in support group activities for their members, such as “literary teas,” as they attempted to do this Tuesday. Upon trying to meet in Havana’s Central Park, Soler says group members, about 35 women, were arrested in their homes, while six managed to get to the park and were arrested on the scene.
“They immediately rushed towards us in an operation along with State Security and police in a brutal way,” Soler said of a mob targeting the women. “They dragged several of us. Ivonne Lemus, already in handcuffs with her hands behind her back, was slammed on the pavement and lost consciousness.”
Images published by the Ladies in White group on Twitter show Lemus sporting a large bruise on her temple where she hit the pavement.
— CANF (@voiceofcanf) December 22, 2016
“As for me,” Soler told Martí Noticias, “they put handcuffs on my left hand and dragged me by the handcuff while grabbing me by the neck.”
These beatings are not unusual, neither for the Ladies in White nor other dissident groups on the island. Soler herself was violently apprehended last week as well — “disappeared” for several days after walking outside of her home. She was freed shortly thereafter and said her arrest was to warn her and the Ladies in White to no longer attend Mass at their Santa Rita church in Havana or face more violence.
Liberan a @DamasdBlanco Berta Soler, "Of. d la seg le dijo , no vengan más a Sta Rita no la dejaremos llegar"
— Damas de Blanco (@DamasdBlanco) December 16, 2016
The arrests Tuesday also follow more arrests last Sunday in which an estimated 30 Ladies in White were apprehended in Havana and neighboring Matanzas province.
Cuban dictator Raúl Castro has implemented a brutal catch-and-release policy with Cuban dissidents, rather than keeping them as prisoners of conscience for an extended time like his brother Fidel used to, which gives him more leverage to deny the existence of long-term political prisoners on the island. The policy has sent the number of politically-motivated arrests skyrocketing since he took over in 2008, however, as many of the same dissidents are arrested on a weekly basis.
Berta Soler, for example, was arrested three times in November, despite the fact that she called off the weekly Ladies in White protests for two Sundays following the death of Fidel Castro. During these arrests, dissidents are often beaten, tortured, and released miles away from their homes with no way of getting back other than hitchhiking or depending on the kindness of locals.
Following Fidel Castro’s death, the Ladies in White did not march for two Sundays to avoid more intense political pressure. At the time, Soler warned that, with Fidel out of the way, the repression of pro-freedom Cuban groups “may increase starting today” because “Raúl is afraid that we will start protesting in the streets [like] in Miami.”