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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Alejandrina García de la Riva

Interviewed December 10, 2023

2010 marked seven years that the 75 had been in prison. We had seven days of events in the capital [Havana]. The Ladies [in White or Damas de Blanco in Spanish] met and other women joined us. We had seven days of events and seven days of repression, but we would still go out into the streets the next day.

[The Ladies in White is a civil society organization founded by the mothers, spouses and daughters of 75 dissidents who were imprisoned by Cuban authorities during the Black Spring crackdown in March 2003. They practice nonviolent resistance against the repression of civil liberties on the island of Cuba.]

A week after those seven days, the State Security did not allow any woman to go to the churches. They packed the front of their homes with police and the women were not allowed to leave. Only four or five Ladies [in White] attended the Church of Santa Rita and they were restricted. Those were three difficult weeks of repression, surrounding that second Sunday. They [State Security] made loud noises with pots against our ears. [Cuban State Security was attempting to disrupt the peaceful protests of the Ladies in White by generating constant loud noise.]

They would keep us standing in the sun for many hours, surrounded. They would not let us move. The accredited foreign press was there.

Maybe it was those images that went around the world (I hope it was one of the reasons) that made Cardinal Jaime Ortega go to Santa Rita’s Church to see with his own eyes what they were doing to us. [Cardinal Jaime Ortega (1936 – ) is the Archbishop of Havana.]

He called Raul Castro and told him what they were doing to us was unimaginable. The regime arranged a meeting with Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino and they talked. [Raul Castro (1931 – ) is the younger brother of Fidel Castro. He assumed leadership of the Communist Party and the country in 2008.]

I know this because in those talks [with Castro], [Ortega] quoted the five Ladies in White who were there those three Sundays to speak with him: Laura Pollán, Berta Soler, Julia Núñez, Loida [Valdés] and me [five founding members of the Ladies in White]. This happened in May of 2010.

The Cardinal told us he was aware of everything that had been happening, especially, the last three Sundays. He said that he complained to the government authorities about what they were doing to us.

He said he requested a personal meeting with Raul Castro to say they could not continue to do what they were doing to us. That they, the Church, would not allow any more [harassment].

The conversation with the Cardinal ended. We suggested to the Cardinal why the [Group of 75] should be freed. Many [of them] had been in the process of leaving Cuba as political refugees before going to prison, so why not let them out? [We asked that he] suggest to Raúl Castro that he let them leave the country.

We proposed he [should] pass on to Raul Castro that if the regime wanted to get rid of the problem of the 75 and all that was happening, that the 75 be released and whoever accepted leaving Cuba could do so.

They took note. The meeting ended and the next week he invited back the same Damas. We met again with the Cardinal who said: “I had a personal conversation with Raúl Castro. I relayed everything you said.”

He [Castro] accepted [the idea]. Not [just that the prisoners could leave] alone, that they could take their whole families. We then realized they [the regime] did not want the Damas de Blanco either. Taking families meant also the prisoners’ wives, daughters, and mothers.

When the Cardinal said he had Raúl Castro’s reply and that they would be released we were happy. We hugged and cried with happiness because the men would no longer be in prison.

We even kissed the Cardinal without asking his permission. We saw that it was a triumph. That what we had endured and what we had fought for had not been in vain. That it was a success and we made it happen.

That is what the Cardinal said and we were very happy. We started talking about how it could be. He told us to talk with each of our families. That they would figure out the process. Each one would be contacted. That he personally would be the one to call each prisoner to make sure it was real and that it was not us who were pushing for the families to leave.

That they were leaving of their own will, not because of pressure from us. We wanted to resolve the problem. That is what happened.

When we left there each of us started calling, to inform them that if they wanted out of Cuba, that we had met with the Cardinal and that Raúl [Castro] had agreed to their leaving. We did not know what would happen to those who wanted to stay.

We had a third meeting with the Cardinal. In the meeting he asked us to visit embassies to see who could take in each of these men. We started immediately. Laura Pollan, Berta [Soler] and I visited some embassies. The biggest job was Laura Pollan’s.

The Embassy of Spain was an immense task. The Czech Republic, Canada, and Chile all agreed to take the 75. The prisoners who wanted to leave could do so.

We did not know that along with those prisoners [the 75], others who had long since been prisoners would also be released, which was also good.

There were prisoners who had spent many years in prison. We felt that we had succeeded. Those who agreed [to the terms] left Cuba.

Perhaps it was not the ideal way, from prison to the plane. It was not the most appropriate. But I think they left because they wanted to do so.

Those who stayed did so because they wanted to stay. To be honest: none was pressured. Each one left because he wanted and chose the country he wanted.

That was how they were freed.