An NGO that tracks violence against dissidents in Cuba published a monthly report this week finding that Cuban communist agents committed over 300 political arrests in March, most of short duration, resulting in the repeated arrests of dissidents considered particularly dangerous to the regime.
Several members of the Ladies in White dissident group were arrested up to four times last month and by far the most common reason documented for all the arrests was attempting to attend Catholic Mass services on Sundays. Other reasons Cuban police targeted dissidents for violent arrests included displaying signs on their windows in favor of democracy, distributing pro-human rights documents in public, and, on one occasion, being related to a known dissident.
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) relies on dissident groups – including the Ladies in White, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the United Anti-Totalitarian Forum (FANTU), and others – to notify them when their members have been arrested, suggesting that more arrests of dissidents not affiliated with any group may have taken place and not been recorded.
The CCDHRN’s monthly report, published on their site, catalogs 319 arbitrary arrested across the island, which they note is a slightly lower number than the 347 people arrested in February. That number was up from the 330 arrests in January and down from the 2017 average of 430 arrests per month.
The number of arrests fell dramatically between 2016, the year longtime dictator Fidel Castro died, and 2017. CCDHRN documented nearly 10,000 arrests in 2016, while listing 5,155 arrests in 2017.
The group notes that they also “registered 33 cases of harassment and insults and 9 physical aggressions executed or instigated by the powerful secret political police or their agents.”
One of the victims of these aggressions, Iván Hernández Carrillo, was reportedly brutally assaulted and fined for the audacity of receiving a beating at the hands of state police. Hernández was arrested twice this month.
Berta Soler, the head of the Ladies in White group, and her husband Ángel Moya were both arrested four times in March, all for attempting to attend Sunday Mass services. The Ladies in White is a group composed of the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of political prisoners – some who have since been freed and joined their struggle, like Moya – whose main act of protest is wearing white, holding the photos of their loved ones, and attending Mass in silence. The Cuban government routinely beats them, drags them by the hair, and arrests them temporarily, often released them hours away from their homes with no way of returning.
Celina Osorio Claro, another Lady in White, was also arrested four times. Dozens of women throughout the country were arrested weekly for attempting to practice Catholicism as a silent act of protest.
Members of UNPACU made up much of the rest of the arrests. Zaqueo Báez, who became internationally known after his public beating and arrest in front of Pope Francis, was arrested twice this month, and other UNPACU members were beaten and arrested for demanding his release in front of their local police station. Other UNPACU members were arrested for hanging posters against the regime in their windows and distributing literature that urged the Cuban communist regime to respect human rights.
Guillermo Fariñas, a recipient of the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for holding over 20 hunger strikes, was arrested on March 10 for no apparent crime; police “threatened him to prevent him from running for office during elections.” Cuban police held “elections” this year for local positions and lawmaker seats in Havana, but not before physically threatening any opposition members considering applying to appear on the ballot.
One woman on the list was harassed and detained through no fault of her own. Gilda Fuente Hernández was “verbally threatened by political police … for being the grandmother of a human rights defender.”
April appears to have started with typical violence. The Ladies in White were forbidden once again from attending Mass on Sunday – Easter, the holiest Christian holiday – and Berta Soler was arrested yet again.
“They brought a bus full of cops, there were like seven cops for every woman, men and women [cops]. They dragged them on the floor,” an eyewitness told Miami’s Martí Noticias.