A Cuban dissident organization published a video this week of a dissident member of the Ladies in White group protesting against the Castro regime in her town. After some seconds of her chanting “down with Castro,” plain-clothed officers appear, grab her by the neck, and drag her into a police car.
The Ladies in White are a group of relatives of political prisoners whose flagship act of protest is to attend Catholic Mass on Sundays wearing white and holding gladiolas and photos of their imprisoned loved ones. For 132 consecutive Sundays, they have faced beatings, arbitrary arrests, mob shaming, and other humiliation for insisting on this practice. They have canceled protests only on the weekend following the death of dictator Fidel Castro.
The dissident group Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), which engages in activism in defense of the Ladies in White and other political groups, published a video on Monday of an unidentified woman in white protest in the town of Calabazar. The video, published at the Cuban-American blog Babalú, appears to have been taken from a nearby building and clearly captures audio of the woman’s protests. She can be heard shouting “down with Castro,” “no more hunger, no more misery,” “long live the political prisoners,” and “freedom for the people of Cuba.”
Shortly after her protest begins, two plain-clothes officers violently apprehend her. She continues to chant through her arrest.
The incident reportedly occurred Sunday, the anniversary of the birthday of Cuban founding father José Martí. While Martí complimented the United States often in his writings, referring to the nation as “a country where everyone looks like his own master,” the Cuban Communist Party has co-opted his legacy and turned him into a predecessor of Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Martí’s birthday is taken seriously in Cuba, and dissidents attempting to honor Martí outside of the strict pro-Communist ceremonies organized by the government face severe state reprimand.
The Ladies in White attempted to march in Havana on Sunday to honor José Martí on his 165th birthday. According to reports from dissidents on the ground, at least 20 activists were arrested for the attempt, including Ladies in White leader Berta Soler. At the time that Ángel Moya, Soler’s husband and a former political prisoner, reported the arrests to Cuban-American news outlet Martí Noticias, Soler remained behind bars. Moya confirmed the arrests of 14 Ladies in White in Havana and two in the east, in Guantánamo and Santiago de Cuba specifically. Other activists confirmed another six arrests in Matanzas, east of Havana.
Moya also noted that an “act of repudiation” – a ceremonial mob shaming the Cuban government forces neighbors to participate in against dissidents – occurred after the arrests.
The Ladies in White undergo extreme persecution for attempting to practice their faith in a way that defies the government. In a report published in August, the U.S. State Department noted that Christian Cubans who do not submit to the Communist Party face “threats, detentions, and violence” for doing so.
“Religious and human rights groups stated that the government harassed and detained outspoken religious figures, especially those who discussed human rights or collaborated with independent human rights groups,” the State Department noted. “Government security forces took measures, including detentions that were sometimes accompanied by violence, which inhibited the ability of members of the peaceful protest group Ladies in White to attend Catholic Mass.”
Cuban dictator Raúl Castro has denied the existence of political prisoner on the island and claimed that Cubans are free to practice religion, though his government also arrested hundreds to prevent them from attending ceremonies to welcome Pope Francis in 2015.