14ymedio, Havana, 8 March 2022 — Every year on March 8th, the state press is filled with the faces of women wielding rifles, in front of a classroom, or leading a state-owned business, but nothing is said of the political prisoners. The number of Cuban women incarcerated for their activism grew significantly following the protests on July 11th (11J). Today we remember eight of them, forgotten during the official celebrations of International Women’s Day.
At the beginning of this month, activist Saily Navarro received some bitter news. After being tried for public disorder, assault, and contempt, the 35-year-old from Matanzas was sentenced to 8 years in prison. A member of the Ladies in White and the Cuba Decide platform, Navarro’s “crime” on July 12th, 2021 was to demand, in front of the municipal police station in Perico, the immediate release of those who were arrested on the previous day.
The blow is doubly difficult for the dissident’s family as her father, former Black Spring political prisoner Felix Navarro, one of the few among the 75 convicted in March 2003 who refused to abandon the island, was also tried at the same time and sentenced to nine years behind bars. Saily Navarro has spent almost two decades of her life experiencing repression in the flesh, first for being the opponent’s daughter and now for her own activism.
They did not arrest Yudinela Castro on July 11th, she didn’t even take to the streets that day due to her delicate state of health. But in the days following the popular protests, they snatched from this woman — who suffers from leukemia and who has relapsed more than once — what is most precious to her. Her young son, Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro, was arrested for participating in the protests and now faces a 12-year jail sentence.
At the end of February, Castro was arrested by political police in an attempt to curb her activism. They transferred her to the 100 y Aldabó prison in Havana and they charged her with contempt, according to the denouncements of several activists. Her arrest seeks to prevent the indignation of the 11J mothers from crystallizing into a demanding movement, which will put the regime in check as occurred once before with the Ladies in White.
Two nearly identical faces were seen among the defendants in the Tribunal of Placetas, Villa Clara last September. They are sisters Lisdany and Lidianis Rodríguez Isaac, for whom the prosecutor sought sentences of ten years in prison for their participation in the 11J protests. These 22-year-old twins have been in the Guamajal prison, a precautionary measure imposed while they are being processed for the alleged crimes of public disorder, contempt and two counts of assault.
Liadinis’s daughter, only three years old, believes her mother has gone to work where they make sweets and cookies. She waits for her each day, while her grandmother makes up stories of a delayed return. The women’s mother, along with their triplet sister, confirmed that the most “serious” thing they did was to shout “patria y vida” in the streets of their community.
The lettered are not safe from repression either. At the end of January, in San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque, the prosecutor sought 15 years in prison for writer María Cristina Garrido Rodríguez. Garrido’s husband, Michel Valladares Cala, described the trial as a “circus”, in which “they did not tell a single truth, pure lies, pure contradiction among themselves,” he said, alluding to the behavior of the prosecutors and their witnesses.
The writer was tried for the crimes of assault, contempt, resistance, public disorder, and organizing to commit a crime. Those in charge of Ilíada Ediciones, which published her book, Examen del Tiempo [The Test of Time], launched an initiative so that all proceeds from the sale of the book will support the author, “long ago converted into an activist for the defense of human rights and women’s rights in Cuba,” stated the editors.
The Beirut family was especially shaken on that July 12th day. Exen Beirut took to the streets to join the claims of freedom in La Güinera, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Cuban capital of Havana. In the following days, police hunted protesters, house to house, and arrested him. His sister Katia Beirut and her father Fredi protested his arrest in the street and they too were arrested.
Since then, the young woman has been in jail and although her and her father’s trial was held in December in the People’s Municipal Tribunal of 10 de Octubre, they are still awaiting their sentence. The prosecutor’s request amounted to 20 years in jail. The siblings’ mother believes the Cuban regime seeks to “tear down” and “destroy” her family.
Home has become a prison for Gabriela Zequeira Hernández, a 17-year-old sentenced to eight months in prison for participating in the 11J protests. Arrested for her behavior on that day, her case became an example of Cuban minors being arrested and international pressure made it possible for her to return home on July 24th, under house arrest.
The second-year accounting student at the Andrés Luján technical school of San Miguel del Padrón spent several days in the Women’s Prison of Occidente, known as El Guatao, and must complete an 8-month sentence. It will take much longer than that for her to forget the violence she suffered the day of her arrest. “The officials grabbed me so hard to put me in the patrol car that they hurt me, they treated me like I was any old thing,” she recalls.
They went to get 24-year-old Yunaiky de la Caridad López Rodríguez at her house ten days after the protests of J11, when she took to the streets in the municipality of Diez de Octubre in Havana. She disappeared for two days and her mother, Niurka Rodríguez García, went from prison to prison looking for her.
Also imprisoned in El Guatao, López Rodríguez is one of the few women convicted of sedition in a trial held on January 31st, sentenced to 17 years in prison.
None of these eight names will be repeated on Tuesday, during the celebrations in state-run organizations. They are the women excluded from the headlines and microphones. They are the Cuban women who have paid a high price for exercising their civil right to protest.
Translated by: Silvia Suárez
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