Diario de Cuba, Havana, 10 December 2015 — Yamilé Garro Alfonso was just a housewife, the mother of a baby and a teenager, when regime forces arrested her sister Sonia and her brother-in-law Ramón Alejandro Muñoz in a violent operation on March 18, 2012.
“At the time I knew almost nothing of the opposition,” she said. Two months later, she began to march with the Ladies in White movement her sister belonged to.
“I went to the Ladies in White (…) after I went to government institutions seeking an answer for the injustice they had done to Sonia,” she says. “I received no reply from anyone.”
“They were very difficult times. There was a lot of harassment, abuse from State Security. I was completely disoriented. I went to the Ladies in White and they welcomed me and gave me their support.”
The story is similar to those of most of the women who have belonged to women’s organization over more than 12 years. Their lives had been disrupted by the political imprisonment of a family member.
In her case, Yamilé had to take care of her sister’s daughter, who had been left without her parents at just 15. “I tried to play the role of her mother, but it was impossible. I tried to do the best I could,” she recalls. “It was very complex for the girl who was a teenager and needed the guidance of her mother. She did not understand how it was possible that, overnight, her mother was deprived of freedom. It was a very radical change.”
Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz were in prison two years and nine months. The authorities accused them of “attacking, public disorder and attempted murder.” The prosecution asked for long prison sentences, but the trial never took place. Yamilé always maintained that the regime had no evidence and was trying to gain time to build a case.
“Going to prison was pretty hard. I went there and they told me they had suspended the visit, that Sonia was in a punishment cell and they didn’t give me any explanations,” she says. “They didn’t allow me to bring her many things, the visits were sporadic. My sister suffered a lot, she had health problems. When I did manage to meet with her and saw her in that situation it felt horrible.”
After her release the regime continued to harass Sonia, who even reported threats on her life. A few months ago she had to go into exile with her family. Her sister continues marching in Havana with the Ladies in White.
“Being a Lady in White is the best thing that happened to me. I have learned to appreciate the desire for freedom. I’ve noticed so many abuses, so much mistreatment. I thank these women who have given me the opportunity to be among them,” says Yamilé.
“There have been extremely difficult moments. Right now we are in a period when the repression has greatly worsened. The government feels it has a free hand to abuse the Damas de Blanco and other opponents because their international situation has improved with the restoration of relations with the United States,” she says.
“They beat us, insult us and take us to deserted areas and leave us there. No one speaks of it, no one criticizes then, and they feel a tremendous impunity to continue to do what they want,” she criticizes.
A few days ago, Yamilé visited Spain with other Ladies in White.
“I had the opportunity to see a place where freedom breathes, where there is democracy, where people are not abused when they say what they think. That reinforced my desire for my country to be free; for my children, that we Cubans will be able to enjoy the country we deserve.”