Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sara Marta Fonseca (part 1, in English)

English-language translation of first part of interview with Sara Marta Fonseca, member of Las Damas de Blanco. See video.

Well, really, since I was born it was something in my blood. I grew up in a family that had animosity toward the government, the castro regimen, since 1959. I was born in 1970, and I was born with that cross that had marked our entire family, such that we were already not looked upon well by the government. My grandfather helped the revolution of Fidel Castro, the way he said it, there was a tyrant that had to be removed from power, and that was Fulgencio Batista, who was committing many crimes. And he helped remove the tyrant but he didn’t want to implant a new dictatorship. And in 1959 he realized the path Castro was going to take and said, “Don’t count on my support any more. I didn’t fight, I didn’t do my part in the struggle to just implant another dictator, and this is headed toward dictatorship, and communism. Don’t count on me anymore.”

In 1970, I began school, preschool, and it was difficult. School was difficult, primary and secondary. It was always, the daughter of the counterrevolutionary, the granddaughter of the counterrevolutionary. I am from a very tight knit place in the province of Villa Clara. I met my husband and came to live here in Havana, and I spent a lot of time trying to survive within something that I wasn’t in favor of. And then in 2004, when my children were already grown, I decided to join the pro-human rights party of Cuba, an affiliate of the Fundacion ???. Right here on this street lived a member of our opposition, and my library is named after him, Rigoberto Martinez Castril. And so, I began to visit his house and participate in some activities until well, today, I’m secretary of the party. And also a Dama de Blanco. I began in the Damas de Blanco in 2008.
Question: Has the Cuban Government changed its tactics in dealing with the opposition?
Yes. I can say that there have been general changes in all aspects. If we are going to talk about the government, they don’t put people in jail like they did 15 or 20 years ago, and if we were to talk about before that around the beginning of the revolution when they would just shoot people. But they don’t allow us to have meetings, they continue to repress us, they threaten us for short periods, that is to say, detentions are for short periods—72 hours, 24 hours, we were detained for almost fourteen days. For carrying out a protest in the streets. They simply don’t admit that there exists an opposition group demanding respect for the universal declaration of human rights. Demanding that there be radical changes in our homeland.
My principle goal is this: that the people unite. I like it, although many think that lots of people act like crazies when people go out into the streets to express themselves. I like expressing myself in the streets, I like getting to know the Cuban people—what is it we want? Because my goal is this: that the people come together in a protest and begin a social extraction, and the end of the dictatorship. I don’t want blood, for nothing, I would like for there to be a peaceful democratic change in my country, without spilled blood. Why not?
To be honest there have been many changes in the mentality of Cubans, although information doesn’t exist, although the opposition doesn’t have a medium to bring our messages to the people. The people are identifying with us. I’m going to give you some examples. Before, we went out into the streets, and people said, “They are saying the truth, but they are crazy. They are going to put you in jail.” And no one joined us at the protest. Today, this year and last year more than ever the Damas de Blanco went out to the streets and from the balconies there were people showing that they were with us, that they identified with us. In the case of the opposition, on the 23rd of August of this year, we — four women — held a protest on the steps of the Capitol. It was marvelous. The women, who’s names I will mention: Odali Caridad Sanaria Rodriguez, Tañia Maldonado Santos, Mercedes Evelyn Garcia Alvarez, and myself, held a protest on the steps. We could see how the people joined us in the protest, We began asking people to listen to us, that we were showing solidarity with the Damas de Blanco in the eastern provinces who had been harshly repressed. We continued asking for respect for human rights, long live democracy. There was a moment when I realized that many people started to join, and I said to my sisters, “I am going to test them to see if they are really with us.” And I said “Down with Fidel, down with the dictatorship!” And they responded “Down!” And when they came to repress us, the people turned around and called them abusers and said we were within our rights. For a moment I that it would be the beginning of a social upheaval. Then in the Cuatro Caminos Plaza with Goma Ilesa, who today sits detained in jail, and no one knows what is happening with her. And Rosario Morales. They had a protest there in the plaza and the people also supported them. These are the steps the Cuban people have taken. We were all detained but not more than 24 hours. Of course, the people were asking for us, and we hadn’t committed any crime. Its written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the right to freedom of expression. When they came upon us and grabbed us, we simply sat down on the ground. We didn’t attack anyone or offend anyone.
Well, strategically, I have always dressed in black, except on Sundays, like today, when I put on white and walk with the Damas de Blanco. And my brother always dresses in black when he goes out with me. Strategically, I said to Tania and Mercedes to dress in black because we didn’t go as members of the Damas de Blanco but as members of of the Pro-Human Rights Party of Cuba and the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights, which is a movement in which we decided to dress in all black. We found ourselves close to the Capitol and we rented a car which dropped us off right at the steps. We went u and simply began with a public speech to tell the people to respect the rights of the Damas de Blanco from the eastern provinces to walk freely on the streets, to stop the repression against them, to cease the repression of the Cuban people, to cease the repression of the opposition and the defenders of human rights, and then we began with the chants. Many were to identify us with the problem in Cuba of food shortage. We said “Down with hunger, down with misery, long live the rights of the people, long live democracy, ling life human rights, long live the Damas de Blanco, to mix the social problems in Cuba with the political, because they are connected. The social problem is connected to the political and economic problem that the country has, without question.
Question: And How long was the protest?
Around 40 minutes. On three occasions the tried to arrest us, and the people turned around on them, something that for me was a memory that makes me very emotional.
Well, first an official from the state security came up and said “That’s enough, stop protesting, disperse, you already achieved what you set out to achieve.” We said no, we haven’t achieved what we want, we want the people to unite, we want changes in Cuba, and he had to retreat, because the people who were there started to yell at him and offend him. Really, the people even called him “fat” and “go away fatty” and “leave her alone!” He went back and got support from others, but they couldn’t stop us either. Only when they showed up with all of their apparatus and patrol cars with sirens blaring did the people stop. At that point people began to get scared, because in 1994, in the “maleconazo,” there was a horrible repression by the police againsts the masses, and so people get very scared when the police show up. But this was one day, and in another day this fear that the public feels, they can lose it. And I say again, I wouldn’t want even a drop of blood, but the solution for our country is in the hands of its people.
I think that we should continue with this mixture of these pacifist activities, when we have actions where we don’t chant in the streets, we simply pass out literature that is censored, or cards with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or hold a conversation, bringing our message in whatever way possible, but above all continuing with our protests in the streets.
Despite all this, many of my neighbors also disagree with the government. I can tell you that right here in the Rio Verde neighborhood, we have almost a majority of the residents on our side.
Here they make us stay in, the operatives. Look at what they have done to my house, they have destroyed my house. Nevertheless, the people continue to show solidarity, continue telling me, “I’m with you and I’m waiting until more people go out into the streets to join.” Of course, this is exactly what we are missing, the massiveness of our people in the streets. Which is something quite difficult, because, unfortuntately, and I have to recognize it, the state security has penetrated practically every opposition group that exists in Cuba. And we can’t, because we don’t reach all of the opposition, “Let’s meet up in Jose Martí Plaza,” because there will simply be someone who transmits this information to the repressive apparatus of the regime and they stop us. Right as we are leaving our houses they arrest us, and its over.
That is why you might have noticed that the manifestations are done among two, three, four, five people. In the Damas de Blanco’s case, yes we have been able to have large groups, but still, this you’re the didn’t let us onto the streets. We were stuck on the 8th, 9th, and 10th surrounded in the house of our fallen leader, laura Bollan, and on the 11th they repressed us brutally.
On the 11th, when the 28 of us women went out, we could see the massive repressive forces that had been around the house of Hector Masea in those days. We expected this and thought they would be close to Santa Rita, which they were. We participated in the mass, like we do every Sunday, and we did our traditional march, along Fifth Avenue, and our activity in Gandhi Park, and when we got to the stop for the P1 bus, to return to Havana, they closed off the street with motorcycles, and then groups of state security officials began lining up on each corner. They surrounded us and began to yell and repudiate us. They verbally offended us.
Many times they say things that I don’t want to repeat. But among them, they say “impudent,” “traitor,” “mercenary,” or “the streets belong to Fidel.” They say this as if the streets weren’t for all of us. And we sat on the ground and then they began pushing and hitting and I think there wasn’t a single woman that didn’t get hit.
Now I am going to recount to you something very personal. During the 9th and 10th of December, there was an official from state security who goes by the name of Camilo, who did this to me [she does hand gesture]. He threatened me, motioning with his hands that he would catch me at some point. They were very angry with me for various reasons. I told the sub-secretaria of the pro-human rights party of Cuba, “They have tried for years to break our organization, and they haven’t been able to do it.” Also, I joined the Orlando Zapata National Front of Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience. In the Front, we decided that every 24th of every month, we would do an action. This 24th of November, we decided to have a completely peaceful march in silence with a sheet, which I have in here, down 23rd Street. We convened, in Martin Luther King Park, where Laura Bollán had been struck hard they year before. And we walked until 23rd and N, until the Cuban Pavillion, and no one did anything to us, the public didn’t do anything, only one person who broke the sheet.
I had left my house very early in the morning. One or 2 in the morning I left, and they woke up around 5 in the morning with the entire house surrounded. They looked tremendously ridiculous, because they had a huge military presence in Rio Verde, and we were walking the streets of Vedado. They arrested us, but they had to let us go. On the 7th of December, I left my house very early again, I participated in the breakfast, as we say, at the US ambassador’s residence, together with Las Damas de Blanco, and others in the opposition, and they had a huge presence here at the house because every Thursday we have a vigil here in my house, in honor of all of the political prisoners, and on the 7th, they arrived here to block the opposition members who were coming for the vigil. And also, perhaps I think, to arrest me as I was arriving back at the house. But I rented a car. I entered as usual, very hidden, because the car has tinted windows, I stayed close to the side of the car, and I didn’t give any direction to the driver to turn until I was already just about at my house, right in front of them, and then I said, “Turn here!” and he quickly turned, and by the time they had realized that the car had turned we were already half way down the block. And later the following day, they weren’t used to seeing me wearing modern clothes and such—I usually dress in simple Cuban clothes—and it occurred to me to dress as if I was 14 years old, with tight pants, and a long sleeve shirt, also tight, I put up my hair, put on some glasses, sandals, I jumped two patios down, without permission from the neighbors, but I wanted to escape, and I got away on a motorcycle right in front of them. And I got into Laura Pollan’s house. They realized it was me when I took off my disguise. And that’s when someone came running at me but I didn’t give them time to arrest me and I went in. and this made them quite mad. So then the 11, on Sunday, when they put us in buses and brought us to different police stations, when the left me at the Cerro station, it was horrible, because there were many people from state security there. They were going to take me down a hallway, but the whole way, they were very violent, grabbing me, they brought me to my cell and there were four women—of the four I saw two of their faces—including one of them I have her DNA carefully saved, because I have a piece of here hair …And another black woman who was in my house during an act of repudiation who bent my arm back to try to break my elbow— the faces of those two I have carefully saved in my head, the other two I don’t. In the cell they began to hit me with open hands, on the head and the face, wherever. They wanted to put on handcuffs, and since
I am pretty dark skinned, you still see the bruises I have on my wrists. There was an official from the state security who’s name I don’t know, he is brown haired, mulatto, short, strong, who entered the cell and with his hands open, he began to kicked me. Here, here and here…(She shows where they hit her on side, and back. Of course, his kicks weren’t directed there, they were directed at two herniated disks that I have. L4-L5, L5-S1. And it was well planned out. It wasn’t a coincidence that on the 4th of September of this year, an official named Pérez, it was my birthday, and they arrested me in Colón. And they said to me, “Sara, you have two herniated discs, you could end up handicapped very easily.” I took it as a threat.
After, on the 9th and 10th of December, Camilo said to me (hand gesture) “I will get you after.” And after all of this hitting, they take me from the 4th precinct station, in handcuffs, they put me in a patrol car, and they take me to the Aguilera station in the 10th of October Municipality. They take me out, and immediately there is a woman, older, dressed as a civilian, and she asks me, “What happened?”
And I say, “You know what happened to the Damas de Blanco.” And she asks what happened after that, and that she had understood that there was another problem at another place. And I said that they hit me and kicked me at the Cerro station, and you could tell that this had bothered her somehow, being there in her station having been hit at another station. She went up and eventually they took me out of the patrol car, an instructor came in, who said very little. Then an official by the name of Joan said, with these words—he didn’t include himself in this, but he should be included because he is part of the repressive body—he said, “They will kill you, and nothing will happen. Even if they kill you, nothing will happen.” And I said, yes, something will happen. Because when they killed Zapata, something happened, and when they killed Laura Pollan, something happened. When they killed Juan Wilfredo Soto-Balsilla, something happened. And if they kill me, something will happen. And with death of any one of us, your regime falls more.
But they are very clear threats that have occurred.


Maria soto said...

Sara Marta, una valiente mujer cubana, Dios la cuide!!!
Gracias Tracey

Tracey Eaton said...

gracias a ti, Maria

Moses said...

Tracey, thank you for publishing this story. How do you continue to support this cruel and repressive dictatorship? Several pro-Castro blogs reblog your posts as gospel to satisfy their need to demonize US policy and thus set you up as the "useful idiot". Please continue to report the truth, but be careful to report the whole truth.

Tracey Eaton said...

Moses - I try to seek out a wide variety of opinions without taking sides. Both pro-Castro and anti-Castro blogs have re-posted my material. My interest is in reporting on Cuba over the long haul. Toward that end, I try to treat everyone with tolerance and respect. However, I do not support the violent repression of peaceful democratic activists in any country. Thanks for your comment. Tracey Eaton