Monday, November 29, 2021

On International Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) Day recognizing some Cuban women that risked all for human rights in Cuba.


Sissi Abascal Zamora sentenced to six years in prison for 11J protest

On International Women Human Rights Defenders Day it is important to recall the role Cuban women played in the resistance to the dictatorship in Cuba, and the high price paid.

 During the 11J protests it is known that at least 195 Cuban women were arbitrarily detained, of which at least 67 remain jailed in Cuba today, according to Cubalex. Women have led during these and prior protests and paid a terrible price for their dissent.

Lady in White Sissi Abascal Zamora was sentenced to six years in prison for participating in the 11J protests in the town of Carlos Rojas, in the municipality of Jovellanos, in the province of Matanzas. The 23-year-old activist and member of the Party for Democracy Pedro Luis Boitel has ten business days to appeal. Reports are that a bus full of women dressed as civilians arrived where Sissi was peacefully demonstrating with others on July 11, 2021, and proceeded to beat her and others up, and a bottle was broken over Ms. Abascal Zamora's head requiring that she receive stitches
Lady in White Sissi Abascal Zamora

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a former prisoner of conscience, nonviolence practitioner, and human rights defender, published an OpEd in The Washington Times  that is a must read. In it he also described the price that Cuban women are paying for standing up for freedom and their loved ones.

I met a woman who, after learning that her son had been jailed for participating in the protests, walked to the police station to demand his release. She was immediately interrogated and strip-searched, exposing a shirt with the pro-freedom slogan “no more hunger.” The police tore off her shirt, handcuffed and beat her, then forced her to walk almost naked in front of the other officers. “They beat me mercilessly,” she told me. “So many blows that I wet myself.”

Women have paid a high price for defending human rights in Cuba over several decades. Here is a sampling of some cases over the past 30 years.
Sirley Ávila León

Sirley Ávila León was a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba from June 2005, for the rural area of Limones until 2012 when the regime gerrymandered her district out of existence. The Castro regime removed her from her position because she had fought to reopen a school in her district, but was ignored by official channels and had reached out to international media. Her son, Yoerlis Peña Ávila, who had an 18 year distinguished career in the Cuban military was forced out when he refused to declare his mother insane and have her committed to a psychiatric facility.
Sirley joined the ranks of the democratic opposition, and repression against her increased dramatically. On May 24, 2015 she was the victim of a brutal machete attack carried out by Osmany Carriòn, with the complicit assistance of his wife, that led to the loss of her left hand, right upper arm nearly severed, and knees slashed into leaving her crippled.

Following the attack she did not receive adequate medical care and was told quietly by medical doctors in Cuba that if she wanted to get better that she would need to leave the country. 

Injuries suffered by Sirley Ávila León.

On March 8, 2016 she arrived in Miami and began a course of treatments over the next six months during which she was able to walk once again although still limited due to her injuries. She returned to Cuba on September 7, 2016 only to find her home occupied by strangers and her attacker free and bragging that he would finish the job. She moved in with her mother and within a short time a camera and microphone were set up across from her mother's home on a post. The Victims of Communism interviewed her and produced the video above.  
Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera
On September 20, 2013 human rights defender Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera briefly described the abuse she had been subjected to by agents of Cuban state security earlier that same year to the 24th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva:
I have been the victim of several acts of aggression on the part of the Cuban authorities, especially by the agents Yuniel Monteagudo Reina and Eric Aquino Yera. They have beaten me into unconsciousness on the pavement, as took place most recently this past March 7 in Santa Clara. The hits to the head, neck, and back have caused me serious health problems that I have not been able to recover from. In addition to beating me, they have threatened me with death on various occasions, these agents have told me that they are going to rape me, and have shown their genitals during arbitrary arrests.
Yris Pérez Aguilera shows cyst, result of state security beatings. (Photo: Yoani Sanchez).
Cuban attorneys Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent in their 2013 report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) touched on the institutional nature of the violence upon women in Cuba by the Castro regime:
"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."
Due to increasing repression, human rights lawyer, Laritza Diversent was granted political asylum and went into exile on  May 4, 2017. She continues to receive threats to the present day from the Cuban government.

Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent
Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, one of the founders of the Ladies in White in March of 2003 and its chief spokesperson, was widely admired inside of Cuba and internationally
Laura Pollán, a courageous woman spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. She had been a school teacher, before her husband was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003 along with more than 75 other civil society members.
Laura Pollán

Following brutal repression, in an effort to prevent them from marching through the streets of Havana, Laura Pollán directly and nonviolently challenged the regime declaring, "we will never give up our protest. The authorities have three options — free our husbands, imprison us or kill us."

She fell suddenly ill and died within a week on October 14, 2011 under suspicious circumstances that a Cuban medical doctor described as "painful, tragic and unnecessary." This took place within days of the Ladies in White declaring themselves a human rights organization dedicated to the freedom of all political prisoners, not just their loved ones. 

Mariela Elena Cruz Varela

On November 19, 1991 the Cuban poet Mariela Elena Cruz Varela, who peacefully dissented asking for nonviolent change, was assaulted by a mob organized by the dictatorship who tried to force feed the poet her own words. She wrote about the assault in her book, Dios en las cárceles cubanas (God in the Cuban jails):
"They broke my mouth trying to make me swallow the leaflets that members of my group had distributed throughout Havana. Afterwards I spent three days brutally besieged, imprisoned in my own home with my two children, with no water, no electricity, no food, no cigarettes. We heard what the huge speakers never stopped amplifying, allegorical songs to the country, the necessary punishment of traitors, and anyone who wanted to could shout at me, organized, of course, the slogans they pleased: Comrade worm, we are going to execute you by firing squad!"
Cuban women continue to lead the struggle for human rights and freedom in Cuba and on  International Women Human Rights Defenders Day we honor them.

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