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Cuba: Monitoring Arrests

Ever since the February, 2010 death of Orlando Zapato Tamayo, the first Cuban hunger striker to perish in 40 years, the situation in the island appears to have become even more tense. Roughly 30 people were arrested around the time of Tamayo's funeral, including blogger Yoani Sanchez and independent journalists Ramon Velazquez Toranzo, Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias and Yosvani Anzardo Hernandez.

Sanchez blogged about her most recent encounter with the police after waiting 60 days for an official response from the Cuban government on the incident.

Hace más de 60 días envié a varias instituciones cubanas una denuncia por detención ilegal, violencia policial y encarcelación arbitraria. A partir de la muerte de Orlando Zapata Tamayo sucesivos arrestos ilegales impidieron a más de un centenar de personas participar en las actividades relacionadas con su funeral. Estuve entre los muchos que terminaron en un calabozo el 24 de febrero cuando nos dirigíamos a firmar el libro de condolencias abierto en su nombre. El grado de violencia empleado contra mí y la contravención de los procedimientos para recluir a un individuo en una Estación de Policía, me hicieron interponer una demanda con pocas esperanzas de que fuera ventilada en un tribunal. Durante todo este tiempo he esperado la respuesta tanto de la Fiscalía Militar como de la Fiscalía General, haciendo un esfuerzo por no sacar a la luz este testimonio revelador, evidencia dolorosa de cuán vulnerados son nuestros derechos.

More than 60 days ago I sent several Cuban institutions a complaint for illegal detention, police violence and arbitrary imprisonment. After the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, successive illegal arrests prevented more than one hundred people from participating in the activities surrounding his funeral. I was among the many who ended up in a jail cell on February 24, when we went to sign the condolence book opened in his name. The level of violence used against me, and the violation of the procedures for detaining an individual at a Police Station, led me to file a claim with little hope that it would be heard in court. I have waited all this time for the response of both the Military Prosecutor and the Attorney General, holding back this revealing testimony, painful evidence of how our rights are violated.

She documented the arrest on her cellphone and released the audio along with this blog post. Download the transcript here [PDF]. You can hear the entire ordeal, from the moment when police approach Sanchez and her sister on the street and force them into a paddy wagon, to the huddle between prison guards. Below is an excerpt.

YS: Esto es un delito (This is a crime.)

[Los golpes arreciaban] (The beating increases)

POLICE: Sí, sí, sí [dijo uno con ironía] (Yes, yes yes [says one sarcastically])

YS: ¡Qué cobardes son ustedes! (What cowards you are!)

YS: ¿Este es el único método? (Is this the only method?)

YS: ¡Suéltame! (Let go of me!)

YS: Están incurriendo en un delito de secuestro, coacción y violencia. No tienen ningún derecho. (You are committing the crime of kidnapping, coercion and violence. You have no right.)

POLICE: ¡Pum, pum! ¡Cállate la boca, mi´ja! (Shut your mouth, honey!)

YS: “Pobrecitos. Ellos no saben que la palabra les esta taldrando el piso donde estan parados. Ellos no saben que van a tener que rendir cuentas enel futuro por todo esto”

(“Poor things. They don't know the word, they are cutting the floor out from under themselves, the floor where they are standing. They don't know that they are going to be called to account for all of this in the future.)

A couple of weeks later, another blogger, Dania Virgen Garcia, was arrested and sent to a women's prison called Manto Negro, or Black Veil. She was released after 15 days, and blogged about it:

Llegué a Manto Negro, una prisión de mujeres de mayor rigor, a las 6 y 30 de la tarde del viernes 23 de abril. Mi primera semana en la cárcel fue muy tensa…Muchas están a la espera de juicio o de que baje la petición fiscal. La espera puede demorar de siete meses a un año y más…

Había casos absurdos e injustos. Una joven que se resistió al acoso sexual de un Jefe de Sector de la Policía. Una cubana-americana acusada de contrabando de oro por viajar a Cuba con sus joyas. Una mujer, acusada de asesinato, que intentó defenderse de unos ladrones que penetraron en su casa y mataron al jardinero. Por algo las presas bromean que la Prisión de Mujeres de Occidente debía llamarse Prisión de Mujeres Inocentes….La tarde que llegué a la prisión, una presa se cortó las venas en la celda. Estaba sentenciada a 10 meses por vender jabitas de nylon. Hacía dos meses que estaba en la cárcel y tenía problemas mentales. Al lunes siguiente se suicidó…Desde que llegué a la prisión, fui tratada como si fuera una espía del gobierno norteamericano. Las guardias me hostigaban y me miraban con odio. Según decían, los yanquis me habían enviado para que averiguara y sacara a la luz todo lo que ocurría en la prisión…Las guardias le decían a las presas que yo era una disidente y periodista independiente, una peligrosa mercenaria, para intentar virarlas en contra mía…

I arrived at Manto Negro (Black Veil), a high security prison for women, at 6:30 in the afternoon on the 23rd of April. My first week in the prison was very tense. Many are awaiting trial or sentence reductions. The wait can take from seven months to one year or more.

There were absurd and unfair cases. A young woman who resisted the sexual harassment of a Chief of Sector in the police. A Cuban American accused of smuggling gold to travel to Cuba with her jewels. A woman, charged with murder, who tried to defend herself from thieves that broke into her house and killed her gardener. Some of the prisoners joked that the Western Women's Prison should be called the Innocent Womens’ Prison…the afternoon that I arrived, one prisoner had cut her veins in her cell. She was sentenced to ten months for selling nylon shopping bags. She'd been in the prison for two months and had mental problems. The next Monday she killed herself…Since I had arrived at the prison I was treated like a spy for the U.S. government. The guards harassed me and looked at me with hate. According to them, the Yankees had sent me to bring to light everything that happened in the prison. The guards told the other prisoners that I was a dissident and an independent journalist, a dangerous mercenary, in order to try and and pit them against me.

Yoani Sanchez interviewed Garcia and posted the video on YouTube; it's garnered a little over 10,000 views.

The diaspora blog Uncommon Sense writes:

Every day, Cuban secret police somewhere on the island knock on a door and take one of the Castro dictatorship's opponents to jail. Many times, they are released after a few hours, but many times, they are not.

Among the recently imprisoned are Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias, an independent journalist for Hablemos Press, who was arrested on April 23rd by security officials who broke into the house where he was covering a memorial service for Tamayo. Arias has since been released. Yosvani Anzardo Hernandez, the former director of a defunct online independent newspaper, was detained on April 24th and questioned for over six hours over anti-government graffiti. Carlos Serpa Maceira was harassed when he tried to cover the weekly march by the activist group Damas de Blanco — meanwhile, the Damas themselves are not protected from violent harassment.

As Laritza Diversent, a Havana based lawyer and independent blogger, writes:

In Cuba, there are several forms of expression. The most peculiar one is when you want to criticize the political system. There are several steps you need to follow. First, you need to look around the place where you are. Second, with whom are you trying to have a dialogue. And third, you need to converse quietly, using signs and code words…The current criminal statues protect State’s leaders, officials and institutions against negative expressions and opinion from the citizenry. In other words, in Cuba, criticism may be a crime.

Someone whose behaviors and words are fully coded, though, remains vulnerable to arrest—in Cuba, “dangerousness” is a crime—making it more difficult to surmise whether these most recent episodes of detainment have been precipitated by the international attention that the hunger striker's death has trained on the island.

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