Operation Counterrevolutionary Toys / Lilianne Ruiz

Laura Pollan delighted in entertaining the children on Three Kings Day

HAVANA, Cuba, January 2014, http://www.cubanet.org.- The police operation started at 5:00 in the morning of January 3. They knocked on the door of Hector Maseda’s house, one of the former political prisoners from the 2003 Black Spring Cause of the 75, husband of the late Laura Pollan — the site of the national headquarters of the Ladies in White movement. Opening the door, Maseda saw in the street a group of 20 officers, led by a Lieutenant Colonel accompanied by a prosecutor, the president of his neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, and the secretary of the Communist Party “nucleus” in the area. The warrant was signed by the commanding officer: Katia M. Morales Jarrin.

The entered the house like people who knew ahead of time what they were looking for. They wanted to operate simultaneously on the lower floor and on the “barbacoa” half-level. They brought metal shears and broke the hasp of the lock on the door of the room where the joys were stored.

They took everything: 160 bags of toys labeled with children’s names; all the food they found (including what was in the fridge for preparing a cold salad: hot dogs, spaghetti, mayonnaise, chicken, pineapple, apples); a piñata full of candies and suckers; 2 laptops, 3 home printers, children’s clothes, women’s clothes — including those Laura Pollán wore — four painting by friends, rosaries, 57 chairs used by the Ladies in White to hold their literary teas; and other things so small and because of this so important, things that would only interest the family: mementos, symbols.

The search lasted no more than 15 minutes; they collected everything and took it away. They arrested Maseda and took him to what had been the police station at Picota and Paula. Inside, he could see that it had been remodeled and converted into a kind of “Instruction Center,” like that at 100 and Aldabo.

They kept him sitting in a chair while they recorded and counted everything they’d taken. At 1:00 in the afternoon they released him.

Laurita’s arrest

As she walked to the site at 9:15 in the morning on the same day, Laura Labrada Pollán, Laura Pollán’s daughter, didn’t know what had happened. Three blocks from the house, a State Security car stopped dramatically, and a fat blue-eyed man got out who didn’t identify himself. “Laura, you can’t continue, you’re under arrest,” he said. Two officers dressed in olive-green also got out of the car.

The procedure applied to those arrested by State Security starts with establishing a sense of familiarity in how they address you. The key is considering this the first step to achieving total domination of a human being: removing their legal personhood. Confronted as she had been other times with an arbitrary arrest, Laurita — as Laura Pollán’s daughter is known to her friends — didn’t ask where they were talking her. After many turns the car stopped. They made her get out and walk down a passage, go up two steps and enter an office. There they told her she was at 100th and Aldabo.

Laurita understood the magnitude of what was happening when she read the list of confiscated articles, in a document drafted in terms that, she thought, were worth copying, but unfortunately she was unable to get a copy. The official who showed her the document presented himself as “Reinier.” He told her that at 5:10 in the morning at 963 Neptuno Street they had performed a search and taken everything, that there would be no party, because, in his words, it was “counterrevolutionary.”

From the document, Laurita remembers phrases such as “Cuban children don’t need the toys of counterrevolutionaries.” They repeated ad nauseum the ideological justification for the sterile social sacrifices in favor of the parasitic State: The expensive toys, which languish in the shop windows because of the outlandish prices, are the fault of “the blockade.”

Since November, with Lady in White María Cristina Labrada Varona and in the name of the whole movement, Laurita had begun to collect the names and ages of the children. In the State stores, at a very high cost totally inaccessible on the salary of a Cuban worker, they were able to buy toys for more than 150 children, thanks to help from Cubans in exile.

When the operation invaded the house, every little bag had more than one toy. And the guests were not only the children and grandchildren of the Ladies in White, or of political opponents or activists. The neighborhood children were also invited, with the permission of their parents.

The party

The Ladies in White managed to engineer a party for the children as scheduled, where they received much love, even though the toys were missing. Some parents in the neighboring houses offered to get some jams. The cake which had been commissioned well in advance, couldn’t make it out of the oven, because, according to the baker who paid for his license to be self-employed, at the last minute there was no gas.

Berta Soler with the Children
Berta Soler with the Children

Some Ladies in White couldn’t come because they were arrested; others were visited by State Security and read the riot act, resorting, finally, to threats. On Aranguren and Hospital streets they set up a police cordon as is their custom, blocking off Neptuno Street, all led by State Security’s Section 21.

They are not uniformed police. They dress in plain clothes although they are armed with pistols. The worst impression is that of their morphology. They deal in violence and impunity. The impression they create and that they try to create is that of lurking and having the ability to jump out and cause every kind of injury of the high command orders them to.

The Feast of the Three Kings at the Ladies in White headquarters goes back to 2004. It was created by Laura Pollán to give some joy to the children and grandchildren of the the 75 peaceful opponents, human rights activists and independent journalists who were unjustly imprisoned in the repressive wave of March 2003, which has gone down in our history as The Black Spring.

Chanel is 6. Her parents are prisoners: her grandmother is a Lady in White. When she learned that “a thief” had taken all the presents brought by the Three Kings she broke into tears. Like her, more than 150 children were left with empty hands after having been fed an illusion that dared to cross the desert on the hump of a camel.

Lilianne Ruiz

Cubanet / 6 January 2013