Eight years ago on March 18, 2003 the dictatorship in Cuba began a massive crackdown rounding up leaders of Cuba's civic society in an operation which it claimed would destroy the Cuban democratic opposition. Seventy five of these opposition leaders were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences and declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.
Instead it led to worldwide condemnation of the regime, and the emergence of the Cuban Ladies in White, a group of women dedicated to obtaining the release of their unjustly imprisoned husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. Eight years later all but two of the group of the 75 remain in prison: Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia.
Sadly, that does not mean things have gotten better. Scores of political prisoners remain imprisoned and new ones await show trials in the days that follow. In addition the Castro regime organized rent a mobs to harass and assault the Ladies in White eight years to the day of their loved ones' detentions and unjust imprisonments in what became known as the Black Spring. Activists were detained prior to and on the morning of March 18 to avoid having them carry out activities of remembrance on this day. For example, Yoani Sanchez reported various detentions in the early morning hours, among them Cuban blogger Katia Sonia who had been detained at 5:00am as she attempted to reach the home of Laura Pollan, one of the leaders of the Cuban Ladies in White. Laura Pollan's home had been surrounded by State Security to arrest anyone trying to reach her home.
Photo by: Adalberto Roque, AFP, Getty Images, Reuters
Although last year's observance was marked by violence carried out by rapid response brigades and State Security agents this year was particularly poignant because the world learned in real time that the dictatorship obligated university students to participate in the act of repudiation. Education is not free in Cuba and in some ways is the most expensive in the world. What price do you place on your dignity or your soul?
organized a rent-a-mob of students from the CUJAE to carry out an attack on the Ladies in White in a so-called "act of repudiation." According to Yoani Sanchez, the CUJAE is the university of specialties in engineering and the students are frequently used as shock troops. She concludes tweeting that "the university in Cuba is not really free, you pay with the currency of ideological submission, and being turned into shock troops.
Human Rights Watch in their November 18, 2009 report New Castro, Same Cuba described the state of fear:
Fear of repression shapes behavior, pressuring Cubans to participate in pro-government activities and discouraging them from voicing dissent or participating in activities that may be perceived as “counterrevolutionary.” Individuals who express unpopular political views live in constant fear of being harassed, beaten, or arrested.In addition students that do not go along with regime activities are expelled from university. If you want to complete your university education then when you are told to harass and assault the Ladies in White you have a choice to make. Expulsion from university and identification as a dissenter that will also place your family under a microscope by State Security that may open them to rent-a-mobs visiting their home.
A day later, on Saturday March 19, 2011 the rent-a-mobs returned to Laura Pollan's home and continued to harass these courageous Cuban women.
Either way it is a high price to pay for an education.