Posted on Saturday, 12.03.11
Marches are part of campaign for coordinated protests in Cuba
Police reportedly detain about 150 dissidents in two days of attempted
street marches in Cuba.
By Juan O. Tamayo
Cuban police and men in civilian clothes attacked more than 50
dissidents as they started a protest march Friday in the eastern town of
Palma Soriano, leaving many of them bleeding from head wounds, witnesses
and dissidents reported.
The march was part of an effort to stage coordinated protests throughout
the island, starting in eastern Cuba, that had led to the police arrests
of about 150 dissidents since they started Thursday, opposition
Palma resident Liliana Rodríguez said the incident began after about 300
police and many men in civilian clothes closed off the street in front
of her house, where about 50 government opponents had gathered for the
The dissidents stepped outside around 10 a.m., chanting anti-government
slogans like "down with the dictatorship" and carrying a Cuban flag, but
were immediately attacked, reported Rodríguez, who said she watched from
the second-story of her home.
The police and men in civilian clothes "fell on them like a swarm of
bees, and demolished them. Almost all had blood on them," she said.
"They were hitting with their fists, kicks and even one of those
Her sister Tatiana, who also witnessed the crackdown told the
Madrid-based blog CubaEncuentro that some of the dissidents were "died
red with blood" after the attack.
Police then forced the dissidents onto three buses, pepper-sprayed some
of the protesters who complained about their treatment and drove them
away, Rodriguez told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Palma. She added that
the men in civilian clothes were clearly State Security agents.
Ladies in White member Yelena Garcés said that before the crackdown, she
saw about a dozen police patrol cars and a group of men changing from
military uniforms to civilian clothes aboard a Ministry of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces bus parked near the Rodríguez home.
Among those detained were José Daniel Ferrer García and Angel Moya, two
of the 75 dissidents jailed in 2003 and freed this year. Moya is married
to Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, a group that demands
the release of all political prisoners.
Rodriguez said police also arrested her brother-in-law, Osmani Céspedes,
who tried to stay in the house so he could report on whatever happened,
and another dissident who tried to record a video of the event.
Garcés told El Nuevo Herald that she could not witness the crackdown
because police had closed off the street in front of Rodriguez early
Friday, but that several neighbors on the street told her what happened
Police "hit everyone, everyone. There were busted heads, some with so
much blood their faces could not be recognized," said Garcés, whose
husband, Miguel Rafael Cabrera, was among those who tried to march and
Dissident reports of police violence can seldom be independently
confirmed. The government's news media monopoly almost never mentions
such events, and foreign journalists in Havana are under heavy pressures
to avoid reporting on them.
The Palma Soriano protest was to have been part of a string of attempts
at street marches, starting Thursday in easternmost Cuba and following
later in towns progressively to the west, to demand "liberty and
democracy for Cuba."
About 26 dissidents were arrested by police Thursday in the easternmost
province of Guantánamo and another 25 or so were detained in the nearby
provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Holguin, Ferrer García reported on
Havana dissident Juan Carlos González Leyva reported early Friday
afternoon that he had already received word of about 150 would-be
marchers detained, including the more than 50 hauled away in Palma Soriano.
Most dissidents arrested to prevent public protests or other
anti-government activities are usually freed hours or days later, with a
police warning that they will be brought to trial and sent to prison if
Palma Soriano, a largely farming municipality of 125,000 people 18 miles
northwest of Santiago de Cuba, the island's second-largest city, has
seen several harsh crackdowns on dissidents in recent months by police
and government supporters in plainclothes.
In August, police for the first time in recent memory broke up a planned
protest in Palma by using tear gas and deploying a fire truck and a riot
squad, wearing black uniforms and carrying gas masks, shields, helmets
and riot batons.
Among the 30 or so dissidents arrested in that attack was Garcés'
husband. Cabrera was freed one month ago, after spending two months in
jail "under investigation," Garcés said.
The "National March Boitel-Zapata Live!" is named after two dissidents
who died during prison hunger strikes, Pedro Luis Boitel in 1972 and
Orlando Zapata Tamayo early last year.