Cubanacán and Our Lady / Miriam Celaya

Our Lady of Charity, Patron Saint of Cuba. Photo from the Internet

During this past week, Mr. Carlos Valhuerdi, an independent journalist at the Cubanacán Press website, has been telling me about some recent developments beginning on the night of May 7th through the 8th in the city of Santa Clara, after the death of John Wilfredo Soto, resulting from a brutal beating at the hands of four uniformed police officers and which, with unusual haste, was denied by government authorities in a press release issued on Monday the 9th.

On May 12th, Granma published an additional whole page article (page 3) titled: “Cuba Scorns Lies” with some eyewitness accounts – among them one of an inexplicably smiling sister of the recently deceased Soto — as “evidence” of the falseness of the beating. There are always people lacking in scruples ready to surrender to fear, whether they are relatives of the victims of repression or not.

What Granma has not reported is the death, on the night of May 11th, of one of the policemen involved in the beating, as a result of a gunshot to the head by his own hand on the same Sunday afternoon, the 8th. According to testimony not published by Granma and revealed to me by phone by my colleague Valhuerdi, the policeman’s name was Alexei Herrero, and he shot himself in the bathroom of his home, located on the outskirts of Santa Clara known as Callejón de San Antonio, on Camajuaní Road, after having returned from the second meeting he had been summoned to by investigators into the death of Soto. The wake for Alexei — an individual with propensity for violence, according to testimonies — was held under heavy police presence at the Santa Clara Funeral Home (formerly Camacho Funeral Home), an action that extended to the deceased’s own home.

Tension has prevailed in the capital city of Villa Clara, with a steady eye on the opposition, threats, and even retaliation. Héctor Bermúdez, a member of the group led by William (Coco) Fariñas, was stoned after making public statements about the police operation that broke out in the provincial hospital Arnaldo Milián and the pressure that was put on doctors when Juan Wilfredo Soto was admitted, which he witnessed personally. Bermúdez suffered a head wound, as he headed back home, that required stitches.

On Friday the 13th Santa Clara was still not peaceful. Valhuerdi again told me about an incident that day at Parque Vidal, in the heart of the city. This time, a group of citizens — not organized members of an opposition group — orchestrated a spontaneous repudiation rally against Amado Gómez Rodríguez, , a flower seller around said park and one of the witnesses presented by the newspaper Granma, who had stated that Soto did not receive a beating as the “enemies of the revolution were describing”. The group in question was accusing Amado of being “a snitch” and other epithets along those lines at the top of their voices, until uniformed policeman peacefully broke up the angry Santaclareños without hitting, fining, or arresting anyone. Lesson learned, or wisdom of the moment, the truth is that this is not the best time to do something like this in Cubanacán.

In closing, this Sunday the 15th, Our Lady of Charity came to Santa Clara, following the pilgrimage route through Cuba to mark the 400th anniversary of her appearance, to be held in 2012. It is said that the Cuban Holy Patron’s reception in Santa Clara was exceptionally outstanding, with a massive congregation of believers and nonbelievers who attended under the force of her symbolic significance in the popular fancy: it is, so to speak, the Cuban Holy Virgin of Freedom since her presence in the fields of the Independence peasant fighters. Cubans, after half a century of broken illusions, are seeking a faith that will unite and sustain them.

Despite the grief that loss of life due to violence incited from power signifies, it is appropriate that the authorities have received, loud and clear, an unequivocal signal: sooner or later, people get fed up with their oppressors. Legitimization of violence, as unwritten guidelines of the VI Congress, could backfire against the dictatorship one of these days. Let’s not forget that clever saying: For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

Translated by Norma Whiting
May 16 2011