Thursday, August 25, 2011

Four Cuban dissident women detained after public protest

Posted on Wednesday, 08.24.11

Four Cuban dissident women detained after public protest
Crowd support for a protest by four dissident women in Havana surprised
By Juan O. Tamayo

Four Cuban women chanted anti-government slogans on the steps of the
Capitol building in Havana in a protest that drew stunning support from
passers-by, who shouted "bully" and "scoundrel" at police.

A video of the incident Tuesday also showed two passers-by who appeared
to join the protest, and recorded a man branding a woman who had
apparently criticized the protesters as a "chivatona" — a government snitch.

The video recorded an astonishing show of public and vocal support for
the four women, in a country where passers-by normally remain impassive
as feared State Security agents and pro-government mobs crack down on

"It shows unquestionably how the Cuban people are on the side of the
pro-democracy activists. No one was cheering the authorities," said
Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the anti-Castro U.S.-Cuba Democracy
political action committee.

Police eventually dragged the four women into patrol cars and drove them
away. Sara Marta Fonseca, Tania Maldonado Santos, Odalys Caridad
Sanabria and Mercedes García were reported still in police custody late

Fonseca and other women have been swiftly detained by police as they
staged several small protests recently as members of the Rosa Parks
Feminist Movement for Civil Rights and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo
National Front for Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience.

But the video of the protest Tuesday showed police hesitating and
backing off as members of the crowd that had gathered around the protest
shouted insults at them and photographed them with their cell phones.

The four women were dressed in black as they hoisted a white bedsheet
with anti-government slogans on the broad steps of the National Capitol,
once the seat of Cuba's government, in the tough Havana Centro neighborhood.

One woman in a long dress, and then another woman in shorts, approached
the protesters in an apparent sign of support as the four dissidents
chanted "Down with the dictatorship," "Long Live Freedom," and "Long
Live Democracy."

The crowd of several dozen people watching the incident from the foot of
the Capitol steps did not seem to respond to the political slogans. One
man was heard on the video saying, "Those people are really crazy."

But they erupted into insults and whistles as a tall man in civilian
clothes, identified by voices in the crowd as a State Security agent,
walked slowly up the steps and tried to take away the protesters' white

They repeatedly shouted "bully" and "scoundrel!" and "let them go" as
the four women sat down on the steps and the man walked back down to the
street level to confer with several other men in plainclothes.

When a woman walking past the crowd made what appears to be an
unfriendly gesture toward the four protesters, a man is heard saying,
"Look at that chivatona" — a nasty Cuban slang for a government informant.

"The day that this falls apart we are going to jail all these
scoundrels," another male voice is heard saying on the video.

At the end, the video shows police in uniform walking up the steps and
then carrying the limp women down to their white patrol cars. One
policeman also leads away the unidentified woman in shorts, with a hand
on her left elbow.

The video showed "the plainclothes officials were clearly nervous of the
crowd and chose to wait for back-up," said Claver-Carone, whose blog
Capitol Hill Cubans posted the video. "Moreover, the use of technology
makes the secret police second-guess itself, for they are continuously
worried about being filmed."

The video, which lasts seven minutes although one subtitle indicates the
incident lasted more than 30 minutes, was shot by a member of the
Hablemos Press independent news agency. El Nuevo Herald spoke with him
briefly Tuesday after the protest, but he did not wish to be identified
because of fears of government retribution.

Fonseca has been detained briefly by police several times in the past
year as she and other women tried to stage a series of public
demonstrations protesting various human rights abuses and supporting the
dissident Ladies in White.

Her most daring protests came last August on the steps leading up to the
University of Havana, an iconic place for anti-government gatherings
before the Castro revolution. She was held for 36 hours and then released.

Cuba's communist government has tightened controls on dissidents in
recent months, amid speculation that it is concerned about possible
eruptions of street unrest as it puts in place some tough economic
reforms, or a possible spread of the protests in the Middle East.

"The Castro regime knows that the Arab Spring began with one protesting
street vendor that was repressed in Tunisia," said Claver-Carone. "Three
dictators down later — and a possible fourth in Syria — make them very
conscious that they are tempting fate with every single act of repression."

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