Cuban mothers turn advocates as sons face imprisonment


Marta Perdomo and Liset Fonseca, once unassuming Cuban women with no interest in politics or social media presence, have become fervent activists following the arrest of their sons in a mass roundup that ensued after the largest anti-government protests in the history of the communist island.

Perdomo, a 60-year-old seamstress residing in San Jose de las Lajas, has transformed her home into a rallying point adorned with a poster demanding “Liberty for Jorge and Nadir. Enough. They are innocent,” reflecting the pain and anguish she has endured since that fateful day on July 16, 2021. On that day, police took away her two sons: 40-year-old IT professor Jorge and 39-year-old English teacher Nadir. The arrests marked the beginning of a distressing chapter in her life.

“We began to make complaints, and that’s when state security started calling us and the threats began,” Perdomo recounted, explaining the added turmoil they have faced in seeking justice for their sons. The stress has taken such a toll that she now relies on sleeping tablets.

Similarly, Fonseca, a 62-year-old homemaker from the same city, experienced heartache when her 40-year-old son Roberto Perez was taken into custody on July 16, 2021. Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke of the immense sadness that arises from knowing her innocent son languishes in prison.

These three men were among thousands of Cubans who took to the streets of numerous cities and towns on July 11 and 12, 2021, expressing their frustration during a spontaneous outburst of dissent. The protesters chanted slogans such as “Freedom!” and “We are hungry!” echoing their discontent with the ongoing economic hardships, medical shortages, and food scarcity that have persisted over the past two years.

The security forces responded with a crackdown, resulting in one fatality, dozens of injuries, and over 1,500 detentions, according to human rights organizations.

The Cuban government has reported that 488 protesters have been sentenced, with some receiving up to 25 years in prison on charges of “sedition.” Perdomo vehemently asserts that her sons’ convictions of eight and six years, respectively, for crimes of “assault, contempt, and public disorder” were fabricated.

Perez, who participated in defacing a poster of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, was handed a 10-year sentence. Perdomo emphasizes that the greatest crime committed by her sons and the other protesters was their demand for freedom in Cuba.

Both Perdomo and Fonseca have made a vow to continue fighting for the release of the imprisoned protesters, regardless of the challenges they face. In a country where political opposition is illegal and the media is strictly controlled by the one-party State, social media has become one of the few avenues available to them for advocacy.

However, mastering the intricacies of online activism proved challenging, especially in the face of pressure and threats from the authorities. Perdomo recalls their early protests, admitting their initial lack of knowledge and nerves as she attempted her first live internet broadcast.

The two women, understandably fearful, reveal that other mothers in the city also have sons behind bars but remain silent out of fear of losing their jobs. Fonseca herself was warned during a prison visit that her son would suffer if she did not remain quiet. Despite these dangers, the pair remains undeterred.

Perdomo passionately states, “If I died or something happened to me, on my grave would be written: ‘Freedom for Jorge and Nadir.’ But I think I will not die yet. I think I will be alive to see them come back to this house.”

During an interview with AFP, Perdomo’s phone rings, and her face lights up as she sees the caller ID. “My boys,” she exclaims, answering the call. It is Nadir on the line, assuring his mother that they are strong, proud of their actions, and everything is fine. Moments later, Jorge also calls, sharing his thoughts with AFP on his mother’s phone. He explains how their initial protest heightened their awareness of the situation in Cuba, leading to a more radical mindset and unwavering belief in the ideals of freedom.

Perdomo and Fonseca are part of a group called “Cuba in Mourning,” consisting of mothers and wives of participants in the J11 protests, who wear only black as a symbol of their ongoing struggle. Despite the lack of visible signs of change, the women remain hopeful, looking to a recent meeting between President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Pope Francis at the Vatican as a potential catalyst for progress. Earlier this year, a Church envoy called for the release of jailed protestors during a visit to Havana.

Perdomo asserts that it is time for this injustice to end. Meanwhile, renowned dissident artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, who has been imprisoned since attempting to join the protests two years ago, has initiated a hunger strike to demand his release. His girlfriend, Claudia Genlui, shared the news on Facebook. Alcantara, named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2021, had been sentenced to five years in prison for “offending the symbols of the homeland, contempt, and public disorder.”

This marks his sixth hunger strike, as reported by Genlui. The persistent activism and unwavering determination of individuals like Alcantara, Perdomo, and Fonseca highlight the ongoing struggle for freedom and justice in Cuba.

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