Ladies in White

Belkis Cantillo Launches A New Fight From Santiago De Cuba / 14ymedio,
Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 January 2017 — Talking with Belkis
Cantillo these days can be an impossible mission. With her home
raided on several occasions, a daughter about to give her her first
granddaughter and the foundation of the new Dignity Movement, the life
of this woman is a whirlwind. A resident of Palmarito del Cauto,
Santiago de Cuba, the activist is looking forward to better days for
Cuba, but she is not ready to fold her arms to wait for them.

With her voice breaking up, Cantillo speaks through the telephone line
about her projects and the new organization she has created to support
the prisoners who populate the prisons of the Island. She clarifies, to
anyone who asks about the origins of the new group, that many of the
women who comprise it were part of the Ladies in White. “We were also
the group Citizens for Democracy (CXD) and most of us have a great deal
of knowledge about this struggle.”

For Cantillo, life is a perennial battle. Last Friday at dawn she
crossed the mountain to avoid the police siege and shorten the distance
that separates her house from the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Charity
of Cobre, patroness of Cuba, whom Cubans affectionately call
Cachita. Although she considers herself a devotee of Cachita, this time
it was not only her faith that moved her. Some 16 women gathered there
to announce the birth of the Dignity Movement.

“The repression was so great that only some of us made it here,” she
tells 14ymedio. The fright from what she experienced has not yet passed,
but Cantillo is a “battle-hardened” woman. Under her leadership are now
grouped around 60 companions of the struggle, three-quarters with a
history of activism and experience in opposition from eastern Cuba, the
area of ??the country most tightly controlled by State Security.

“We entered, 14 of us, and later, at ten at night, two more,” Cantillo
explains. The surveillance agents also arrived and they threatened them,
telling them to withdraw without waiting for Sunday Mass. The women
insisted in remaining in a nearby shelter, managed by the church, but in
the end they had to return to their homes.

“They didn’t let us eat, nor even drink water. They’d never seen
anything like that there, they even called the police to get us out,”
she remembered. But the people who were pressuring them didn’t know they
had given birth to a new group.

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, has words of
encouragement for the movement that has just been born. “I see as good
every person who fights against the regime,” she emphasizes. “Any
movement that is willing to fight the regime, for me, is valid and
effective in this fight,” she says. However, she disagrees with what
happened on Saturday: “We have to respect the churches, that’s their
discipline.”

Cantillo is now focused on the future. Her effort and that of the rest
of her colleagues is focused on the common prisoners, a sector that few
speak about and whom many avoid representing. “We chose these prisoners
to help them and their families with the social and legal attention they
need and do not have,” the woman said. At the center of her critique is
the crime of “pre-criminal dangerousness” – a “crime” for which it is
possible to imprison a citizen on the mere suspicion that they may
commit a crime in the future.

In the middle of last year, the United Nations Development Program
estimated that Cuba had 510 people in prison for every 100,000
inhabitants, a figure that places it at the head of the region. In 1959
the island had 14 prisons, the figure now exceeds 200, according to
estimates by Elizardo Sánchez, president of the Cuban Commission on
Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).

For its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has
denounced that, after El Salvador, Cuba is the country in Central
America and the Caribbean with the highest rate of overcrowding in
prisons. Between common and political prisoners, the prisons are
estimated to house more than 80,000 Cubans, 80% of them black or mixed-race.

The activists are seeking to extend their actions to all provinces but,
for the moment, feel comforted to have been able to get this far. “We
have succeeded, now we will continue,” says Cantillo, with that direct
and brief way of speaking of women accustomed to the rigors of rural life.

“All those who initiated the movement have been threatened by the
political police, house by house,” she reports. However, “my family has
always been very supportive of me and has had to be strong not to become
divided.”

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), her husband, knows
Cantillo’s determination well. José Daniel Ferrer looks positively on
the formation of the new entity of the civil society. “It seems to us
positive that women and men, in this case women, are concerned about the
problems that most affect our nation, our society.”

“The only thing we had not recommended was to change the name, they
already existed as Citizens for Democracy and had been known for two
years,” he reflects.

Cantillo also leaves a space for premonition when she says in a firm
tone of voice: “Soon my first granddaughter will come into the world and
she will be very strong because she has experienced the repression since
she was in the womb of her mother.”

Source: Belkis Cantillo Launches A New Fight From Santiago De Cuba /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar – Translating Cuba –
translatingcuba.com/belkis-cantillo-launches-a-new-fight-from-santiago-de-cuba-14ymedio-luz-escobar/

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