Dissidents say police used tear gas in a raid, beat women

August 29th, 2011   Theme: Cuba Libre!

Article by Juan O. Tamayo, published in the Miami Herald on August 29, 2011

For the first time in years, Cuban police used tear gas in a raid over the weekend. Women also accuse police of beating and sexually harassing them over.

Cuban police used tear gas in a weekend raid against dissidents in eastern Santiago province, where State Security agents also pummeled and made obscene gestures at dissident women, opposition activists reported Monday.

“The riot squad came into the house like it was a commando movie, because that’s never been seen in Cuba,” said YulieCQ Valverde, whose husband was one of the 27 dissidents detained during the raid Sunday on their home in the town of Palma Soriano.

It was the first time in recent memory that Cuba was reported to have repressed political dissidents with tear gas and the riot squad, clad in black uniforms and carrying gas masks, shields, helmets, riot batons and tear gas launchers.

But Sunday’s raid was only the latest in a string of reports of unusually strong protests and violent police crackdowns in Cuba, where the communist government has long kept an iron grip on domestic security.

The latest reports came from dissidents and their relatives, and there was no way to independently confirm them. The government has not commented on the weekend incidents, and foreign journalists in Havana reported nothing about them.

Most of the recent incidents took place in Santiago, where members and supporters of the Ladies in White have tried to gather Sundays at the cathedral in the city of Santiago to attend mass and then stage street marches demanding the release of all political prisoners.

The worst incident this weekend came in the town of Palma Soriano, 18 miles to the northwest, where 27 men had gathered Sunday at the home of Marino Antomarchit for a street march protesting the violence against the Ladies in White and other police abuses.

Before the men could hit the street, Valverde said, police sprayed tear gas through the front door and windows and riot squad members in gas masks rushed in, handcuffed the dissidents and took them away in a bus.

“It was like the end of the world,” she said, adding that police also broke up much of her home’s furniture, tore up bedding, seized documents, computers, cameras, cell phones, notebooks and some wallets and ripped up some of the men’s T-shirts, which displayed the word “Change.”

Valverde and José Daniel Ferrer, a dissident who said he watched part of the raid from a distance in order report on the event, told El Nuevo Herald that a fire truck was deployed during the raid, apparently to use its water hoses for crowd control if needed.

Ferrer said he also saw police drag away four or five neighbors who shouted “bullies” and “murderers” at police. Antomarchit’s asthmatic 2 ½ year old daughter, Stefhani, was overcome by the tear gas and evacuated from the house through a window, he added.

The dissidents remained in police detention as of Monday evening, Ferrer said, adding that he had also received reports that one of them, Ruben de Armas Adrouver, was beaten by police and received five stitches on his head.

Ladies in White supporter Caridad Caballero, meanwhile, alleged police pummeled and sexually abused her and Marta Díaz Rondón on Saturday when they tried to travel from their homes in Holguín to Santiago for Sunday mass.

Halfway into the 66-mile trip, police and State Security agents stopped their hired vehicle, dragged them out, shoved them into patrol cars and took them to a police station in nearby Bayamo, she reported.

The police “were shouting at us the whole time, hitting us and making signs and gestures with their fingers that were horrible, grabbing their crotches, something sick, gross,” Caballero told El Nuevo Herald by phone from her home in Holguín.

State Security agents urged the police in Bayamo to strip-search them, but the two women refused to take off their clothes, Caballero added. Police freed them Sunday and drove them back to Holguín.

Ferrer also noted that top State security officers have been contacting him with oddly mixed messages about his fellow Santiago dissidents.

“They told me to go slow, that I am losing some standing with people that support me,” he said, “but that they will jail as many people as needed to keep this from spinning out of their control.” He called the contacts “a trick to halt the protests.”

Also on Sunday, police allegedly beat and detained 13 members and supporters of the Ladies in White who had gathered in a separate Palma Soriano home for an attempt to travel to Santiago for mass at the cathedral.

The women were dragged into a bus that then dropped most of them off at several different locations, said Berta Soler, a spokeswoman for the Ladies in White. She was put on a bus back to her home in Havana, she told El Nuevo Herald before her cell phone went dead. Some remained late Monday in apparent detention.

Dissidents Guillermo Cobas Reyes and Agustin Magdariaga were also detained Sunday in their hometown of El Caney, about four miles from Santiago, according to reports from opposition activists in the province.

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez , a dissident in central Cuba also known as “Antunez,” also reported the weekend detentions of several opposition figures in the eastern province of Camaguey and the westernmost province of Pinar del Rio.

Seven of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, meanwhile, issued a joint statement Monday demanding an end to the violence against the Ladies in White, their supporters and other peaceful dissidents.

“Stop the punches and other abuses!” said the statement by Ferrer, Gisela Delgado Sablón, Guillermo Fariñas, René Gómez Manzano, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Héctor Palacios Ruiz and Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz.

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