Dissidents placed under house arrest, intimidated to avoid marking Zapata Tamayo’s death
Posted on Wednesday, 02.23.11
Cuba dissident clampdown
Dissidents placed under house arrest, intimidated to avoid marking
Zapata Tamayo's death
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuban security officials tightened an already harsh clampdown on
dissidents Wednesday, detaining and putting under house arrest well over
115 to block any possible protests on the one-year anniversary of
Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death.
The round-up hit across the island and virtually all top government
critics: the Ladies in White, Guillermo Fariñas, Martha Beatriz Roque,
"Antúnez'' and an official of Elizardo Sánchez illegal but
long-tolerated human rights group.
The worst single incident came when police chased and often pummeled
about 15 women as they walked toward the Havana home of Ladies in White
leader Laura Pollán to join in a rosary in Zapata Tamayo's memory,
Some of the so-called Ladies in Support sought refuge in nearby homes
but were tracked down by security agents and virtually all were believed
to have been arrested, Alejandrina García, one of the Ladies in White,
told El Nuevo Herald.
A mob of about 300 people organized by the government then laid siege to
Pollán's home for more than five hours, Roque said by telephone from the
house. They threw rocks and eggs at the building and chanted, "Machete,
because they are few."
The incident spread when some of the women in Pollán's house went out to
help the Ladies in Support and were themselves attacked, Roque said.
García said she was punched in the face by someone in the mob. Roque
said she was hit in the arm by a state security official and Blanca
Hernandez went to a hospital with a bloody nose.
Sánchez said he had confirmed reports of at least 104 dissidents
detained or ordered to stay home in the past 48 hours — and expected the
totals would double as word from the provinces reached him — in what he
called "a wave of preventive repression."
"We've seen ugly things today. But careful, nothing like Libya. This
government retains a great capacity of control, and even more of
intimidation," added the head of the Cuban ommission for Human rights
and National Reconciliation.
President Barack Obama, in a rare comment on the island, issued a
statement calling for "the immediate and unconditional release of all
political prisoners in Cuba'' and noting the death of Zapata Tamayo — a
political prisoner who died Feb. 23, 2010 after an 83-day hunger strike
to protest prison abuses.
"Sadly, the harassment and detention by Cuban authorities of Zapata's
mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo and others across Cuba, as they sought to
commemorate her son's death, underscores how much of his dream remains
unfulfilled," Obama added.
Dissidents have been trying to organize large-scale protests to mark the
death, but never announced their exact plans to throw off security
agents who regularly detain opponents, for hours or days, to avert
gatherings. It was not clear how many of those detained in recent days
remained in jail as of late Wednesday.
One of the few dissidents not harassed Wednesday was Zapata Tamayo's
mother, who was allowed to march to his grave in the eastern town of
Banes along with 12 relatives despite what she called "a big police
"We prayed, put down flowers, observed a minute of silence and shouted
'Zapata Lives!''' she told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from Banes.
Tamayo said she was pleased but surprised that her group was allowed to
walk to the grave, because authorities have barred her from doing so
several times in the past year and moved harshly to stop others from
marking his death around the island.
Havana bloggers Yoani Sánchez and Claudia Cadelo and the Miami-based
Cuban Democratic Directorate sent a steady stream of Tweets reporting on
the day's events. But few could read them in Cuba, which has the
region's lowest Internet penetration rate.
Opposition activists reported street protests in the towns of Sancti
Spiritu, Bayamo, Santa Cruz del Sur and Ciego de Avila. But there was no
way to independently confirm how many people participated or exactly
In Ciego de Avila, in eastern Camagüey province, dissidents reported
police deployed riot-control vehicles and groups of government
supporters, some armed with rocks, sticks and iron bars. There were no
reports of injuries.
Among those reported detained and pummeled was Jorge Luis Pérez Garcia,
known as Antúnez, who spent 17 years in prison and regularly defies
authorities in his hometown of Placetas, as well as his wife. His
phones, like those of many other dissidents, did not seem to be working
Police also picked up Guillermo Fariñas, a leading dissident who staged
a lengthy hunger strike last year to press for the release of 26
political prisoners, as he left his home in the central city of Santa
Clara, apparently headed for a protest. He won the Sakharov human rights
prize awarded by the European Parliament last year.
Sanchez said Wednesday's arrest of a member of his commission, Juan
Goberna, was rare because his group limits itself to reporting on human
rights violations and does not join protests or other political activities.
Ladies in White spokesperson Berta Soler reported during the morning
that security officials had visited several group members at home and
warned that if they joined any anti-government protests Wednesday they
could jeopardize the release of more political prisoners.
Raúl Castro's government has freed about 60 political prisoners since
July but still holds an estimated 100, including seven of the 75
peaceful dissidents arrested in a 2003 crackdown known as Cuba's Black
Dissidents also reported four activists detained and one under house
arrest in Guantánamo; seven more under house detention in Havana,
Holguín and Santa Clara; and three picked up by police in the western
city of Pinar Del Rio and the towns of Las Mercedes and La Florida in
In the central city of Santiü Spiritu, a mob of 300 government
supporters armed with rocks and steel rods broke down the door to the
home of dissident Adriano Castañeda and pummeled him and two other
dissidents, according to the Democratic Directorate.
One Bayamo dissident reported the protest march there and his own arrest
by cell phone — from the local jail, the Directorate noted.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement Wednesday noting that the
anniversary of Zapata Tamayo's death "highlights the injustice of Cuba's
detention of political prisoners."
"We also deplore the continued intimidation and harassment by the Cuban
government of activists and their family members, including Zapata's
mother Reina Luisa Tamayo, who are working to promote human rights on
the island," the statement added.