Tuesday, July 9, 2013

End the Silence: Stand with Women in Cuba for Their Rights

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) examined Cuba today during its 55th session at the Palais des Nations in Conference Room XVI in Geneva, Switzerland. There was no mention, not even a question raised, of the Cuban government's agents engaging and organizing others in a systematic pattern of death threats, assaults, and rape threats against Cuban women in order to silence their dissent. Women in Cuba have been and continue to be imprisoned, badly beaten, mutilated, threatened with rape and extra-judicially executed by a government that some claim is pro-women in order to deny them their fundamental human rights. How can this be going on and CEDAW not mention it?

Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent presented report to CEDAW
 There was one ray of light amidst the depressing news and that was that two dissident Cuban attorneys Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent presented their report to CEDAW that touches on the institutional violence against women, and this is now part of the official record:
The brutality of the police and state security agents, including women members of these bodies, against women dissidents, is supported by the state, which exemplifies the institutionalized violence as a means to repress women opposition activists. Arbitrary detention is one of the methods to prevent them from exercising their rights to speak, associate and demonstrate. In detention centers agents use violence, sexual assault and insults as means of repression. The cells enclosed in unsanitary and sometimes sanitary services have no privacy or are not appropriate for women, even having them share prison cells with men. In some cases, they forced to strip naked or forcibly stripped, obliging them to squat to see if they have items in their genitals and claims that have been reported that they have introduced a pen into the vagina, under the justification of seeking recording objects.

The government organizes in workplaces the so called Rapid Response Brigades (BRR) to suppress even with the use of violence women dissidents. It is the absolute government inaction regarding those involved in rallies of repudiation against the Ladies in White and other women opposition activists, acts against the public order, groups that gather to promote hatred against opponents of the government and advocate for socialist revolution, to which are added the media with smear campaigns against these women, who have no opportunity to exercise their right to reply.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are eight cases that deserve CEDAW's attention:
Rosa María Rodríguez Gil
One day a secret policemen approached Rosa María Rodríguez Gil and demanded that she become an informant spying on other members of the human rights group of which she is  a member. She rejected their offer saying that she would not be subjected to blackmail. They warned her that her learning disabled son, Josvany Melchor Rodríguez, would pay. Three days later he was arrested on March 19, 2010 and held in custody for nine months then subjected to a show trial and given a 12 year prison sentence. Rosa responded by denouncing the blackmail and demanding the immediate release of her innocent son. Two years pass and her son is still unjustly imprisoned and international attention draws some attention to his plight. Early one morning her sister, Dalia Margarita Rodríguez, who is a cancer survivor, gets a phone call they ask her if she is related to  Rosa and they ask Dalia her son's name. She answered all their questions truthfully and then they tell her to talk to Rosa and to take care of her son or that he would end up the same way.  

Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo and Ofelia Acevedo
 Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo: "There, as in Madrid, we have been reminded that the death threats received by my father were made concrete on July 22, 2012 and requested support to investigate his death and the death of my friend Harold Cepero. We left behind a statement being signed by those attending the summit explicitly requesting support for an investigation to clarify what happened. The truth is essential, for justice, as a way for true reconciliation, but also as a warning, because death threats have now extended to all my family and the repression increases against members of the MCL and the entire opposition." Both women are currently in exile as political refugees due to the death threats and harassment from the government.

Sonia Garro
More than a year after her detention the Lady in White, Sonia Garro, is being held at "El Guatao" prison and is regularly receiving death threats. Amnesty International reported that "Lady in White Sonia Garro Alfonso, and her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, were arrested at their home in Havana [on March 18, 2012]: around 50 police forced their way into the house and fired rubber bullets at them. According to her sister, Sonia Garro Alfonso was wounded in the foot by one of these bullets." In the same document it is revealed that "Sonia Garro Alfonso was suffering a kidney problem before her arrest that may require surgery. " Because she took part in a march on Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 23rd Avenue in Havana with a makeshift banner that read: "Down With Racism & Long Live Human Rights" she was detained by police for seven hours and badly beaten. Sonia Garro Alfonso suffered a fracture of the nasal septum and other injuries reported by the EFE newswire.
Yris Perez Aguilera
 Yris Perez , Damarys Moya ,Yanisbel Valido, Natividad Blanco and Ramona Garcia were beaten and arrested in Santa Clara for marching on March 7, 2013.  Yris Perez Aguilera had been beaten so badly that she lost consciousness and had to be admitted to a hospital. When she regained consciousness despite still being in a bad state she was discharged on orders of State Security. Due to the multiple beatings she has received from government agents Yris Perez Aguilera has developed a cyst on the top of the spine where it meets her head.  She frequently suffers migraines, dizziness spells and other sharp pains due to the repeated attacks which she has not been able to tend to medically. The man who assaulted Yris on March 7, 2013 is Eric Francis Aquino Yera, the same official who, in 2012, threatened to rape the 5 year old daughter of Damaris Moya- Lazara Contreras.
Marina Montes Piñón
 Marina Montes Piñón, a 60 year old woman and long time opposition activist, was beaten with a blunt object by regime agents on December 15, 2012 in Cuba. The end result was three deep wounds in the skull and a hematoma in the right eye. She needed nearly thirty stitches to patch up the wounds.
Berenice Héctor González
 Berenice Héctor González, a 15-year old young woman, suffered a knife attack on November 4, 2012 for supporting the women's human rights movement, The Ladies in White. News of the attack only emerged a month later because State Security had threatened the mother that her daughter would suffer the consequences if she made the assault public.

Damaris Moya Portieles and her daughter
Human rights activist and member of the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights, Damaris Moya Portieles, denounced on  May 3rd 2012 that in addition to having been the victim of a violent arrest along with other dissidents the previous night, State Security and political police agents threatened to rape her 5 year old daughter. According to Portieles, the main culprit of this threat was the State Security agent Eric Francis Aquino Yera.

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo
 Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, one of the founders of the Ladies in White in March of 2003 and its chief spokeswoman was widely admired inside of Cuba and internationally. She fell suddenly ill and died within a week on October 14, 2011 in a manner that a Cuban medical doctor described as "painful, tragic and unnecessary." This was just days after the Ladies in White declared themselves a human rights organization dedicated to the freedom of all political prisoners, not just their loved ones.

Women are dying in Cuba for defending their fundamental human rights using nonviolent means. Will the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) speak for them? Will you?

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