The Cuban anti-Communist group Ladies in White reports at least 50 of its members were arrested this weekend following a mob attack on their headquarters in Havana, in which the dissidents were forced to hide as the mob hurled large stones into the building.
“They called us mercenaries, paid for by the Empire [the United States], told us to get on a raft and go,” Ladies in White member María Cristina Labrada told the Spain-based publication Diario de Cuba.
“They shouted obscenities at us, called us whores, lesbians, told us to come out so they could beat us.” Labrada added that the group, which she estimated to be about 200 people, ran to the other side of the building in which they typically congregate on Sundays to avoid coming “under fire with stones… they threw large rocks, we had to cover up the TV and get away.”
Ultimately, the women needed to leave the building. Labrada says the mob beat those who left, ensuring to cover up any cell phone cameras that could capture the attack.
The government reportedly organized the mob at a nearby park under the guise of an International Women’s Day celebration. “I think the goal was to organize people at that activity and bring them here,” Labrada said from the Ladies in White headquarters.
Miami’s Martí Noticias cited a different Lady in White, Denia Fernández, who confirmed the event as an attempt to keep the Ladies from attending Catholic Mass on Sundays. The group, founded during the Black Spring of 2003, began as a support group for the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of political prisoners. The Ladies in White attend Catholic Mass every Sunday carrying the portraits of their relatives who remain imprisoned for opposing Communism. The government often intervenes to prevent them from attending Mass, even during holiday seasons like Lent.
Violence against the Ladies in White is common in Cuba. In an incident in December, for example, Lady in White Ivonne Lemus lost consciousness after a Cuban state police officer repeatedly slammed her head on the pavement while arresting her. During high-profile visits like those of Pope Francis and former U.S. President Barack Obama, police beat and temporarily detained Ladies in White members to prevent them from attending welcome event for the prominent individuals. The women would be beaten and driven hours away from their homes, abandoned with no way of returning to their families.
During Pope Francis’s visit in 2015, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler recalled: “They grabbed me by the hair, by the neck, and shoved my violently into a car.”
That same year, a Communist mob attacked Lady in White Digna Rodríguez Ibañez and doused her in tar as a form of humiliation.
While President Obama claimed that opening the United States up for further interaction with the dictatorship of Raúl Castro would help the Cuban people, extreme repression of dissidents has continued, and worsened, since his “normalization” announcement in December 2014. The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights documented 484 arbitrary/politically-motivated arrests in February 2017 alone. Largely driven by Ladies in White activity, 77 percent of those arrested were women.
The 2016 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Cuba found multiple incidents of police torture of dissidents, including an incident in March 2016 in which “police officers allegedly beat two members of the Damas de Blanco with cables” and multiple reports of “head injuries, bites, bruises, and other injuries during government-sponsored counter protests and detentions.”