Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas in Cuba: Repression and Protests

Even on Christmas repression continues in Cuba

Ivonne Malleza and two other nonviolent activists transferred to maximum security prison.

Cuban communists ended Christmas in 1969 and was only returned to the Cuban people when Pope John Paul II negotiated for it in conversations surrounding his 1998 visit to Cuba. Despite the formal return of Christmas, repression still takes place over the holidays on the tropical island. State Security does not go on holiday.

On Christmas day 2011 three Ladies in White Leticia Ramos Herrería, age 42, Sayma Lamas, age 43, and Elizabeth Pacheco Lamas, age 20 were beaten up and detained by state security agents. State security agents punched and kicked the women and stopped them from attending Christmas Mass. Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was attacked and detained on his way to Mass on Christmas morning along with ten other dissidents by the political police who blocked their path with police cars and beat them up and detained them. Fariñas was released hours later at 7:30pm on Christmas day bruised and sore from the attack.

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI in the spring of 2012 presents opportunities for both the Church and the Cuban people to make important gains in both spiritual and material freedom. The visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998 saw the return of Christmas and during his visit a breath of freedom shook the island. Lists of political prisoners were presented to the Cuban government by the visiting Pontiff and several were released following his trip.

The news of the release of nearly 3,000 prisoners on December 23 as a humanitarian gesture ahead of the Pope's visit has so far meant the release of only 5 political prisoners. Although the lists are incomplete, the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation says that there are at least 66 identified political prisoners. Others place the number at 150. Either way these are partial estimates. No one knows, outside of the dictatorship itself, the total number of political prisoners. In the first 11 months of 2011 there have been over 3,500 documented arrests for political reasons.

In Mayabeque on December 24 activists march demanding the freedom of three imprisoned nonviolent activists

Meanwhile, Cubans are growing increasingly frustrated with the injustices visited upon them and their loved ones and they are losing their fear and taking to the streets in protest despite harsh repression. Cuban women such as Sara Marta Fonseca have been brutally beaten and detained for denouncing the mistreatment of others. Three non-violent Cuban activists: Ivonne Malleza Galano, Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda, and Ignacio Martínez Montero, Ivonne's husband were all sent to maximum security prisons at the same time that the dictatorship has announced the parole of over 2900 prisoners. Ivonne and Isabel were sent to Manto Negro prison. Amnesty International had expressed concern over Ivonne Malleza because she had been detained and held incomunicado for ten days.

In the neighborhood of Párraga in Havana activists take to the streets in protest on December 23.

Ivonne Malleza was arrested at Fraternity Park in Havana on November 30. It was only on December 10 that she was allowed a phone call to inform family and friends of her whereabouts. She was held at the Alternative Center for Processing Detainees (Centro Alternativo de Procesamiento de Detenidos) along with her husband Ignacio Martínez Montejo, who was also arrested at the demonstration. Now she has been transferred to Manto Negro, a maximum security prison. Both Ivonne Malleza Galano and Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda are facing 5 years in prison.

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