Easter No. 3 for a Prisoner of Castro
Bearing witness to Cuba’s political persecution costs Sonia Garro her freedom.
Christians the world over celebrated the resurrection of their savior on Sunday with worship services and family gatherings. Thirty-eight-year-old Sonia Garro shares the faith too, but she spent the holiday in a Cuban dungeon as a prisoner of conscience, just as she has for the past two years.
Ms. Garro is a member of the Christian dissident group Ladies in White, started in Havana in 2003 by sisters, wives and mothers of political prisoners to peacefully protest the unjust incarceration of their loved ones. It has since expanded to other parts of the country and added many recruits. The group’s growing popularity has worried the Castros, and they have responded with increasing brutality.
Cuba’s military government wants us to believe that the Brothers Fidel and Raul Castro are “reforming.” To buy that line you have to pretend that Ms. Garro and her sisters in Christ don’t exist. Of course that’s often the impression one gets from Havana-based reporters working for foreign media outlets.
They’ve been invited into the country not to serve the truth but to serve the dictatorship. Fortunately, there are brave and independent Cuban journalists who continue to tell the Ladies’ story, despite scant resources.
In the late winter of 2012, Cubans were looking forward to a visit from Pope Benedict XVI and the Ladies were lobbying the Vatican for an audience. Their relentless pleading was embarrassing the dictatorship, which had been beating them in the streets on their way to Sunday Mass for almost a decade. It was also making the Church, which had already cut its own deal with the regime on the terms of the visit, look bad. On the weekend of March 17 Castro sent the Ladies a warning by locking up some 70 of their members.
Most of those detained, including leader Berta Soler, had been freed by the time the pontiff touched down in Cuba nine days later, but Ms. Garro was not. Benedict celebrated some Masses, did photo ops with the despots and left.
It was a clever strategy: The world saw the release of the many Ladies, which obscured the continued detention of the one. That one—poor, black and not well known internationally—serves, to this day, as a constant reminder of the wrath Castro will bring down on anyone in the barrios who gets out of line.
By 2012 Ms. Garro already had experience with state violence. Her record of counterrevolutionary activities included running a recreation center in her home for troubled youths. For that she was twice beaten by government-sanctioned mobs. She suffered a broken nose in police detention in 2010.
When security agents took her home to put her under house arrest ahead of the pope’s visit, she was met by a mob sent to harass her. Her husband, Ramon Alejandro Muñoz, had climbed to the roof and was chanting anti-dictatorship slogans. Two neighbors took the couple’s side. Special-forces police were called in. They raided the home, shot Ms. Garro in the leg with rubber bullets and hauled the couple and two neighbors to jail.
Eighteen months later prosecutors charged Ms. Garro with assault, attempted murder and public disorder. Her husband and one neighbor, Eugenio Hernández, are accused of attempted murder and public disorder. The prosecution is seeking a 10-year prison sentence for Ms. Garro, 14 years for Mr. Muñoz, and 11 years for Mr. Hernández.
Anyone who has ever read about Soviet show trials will recognize the state’s case. The prosecutors claim that Messrs. Muñoz and Hernández were both on the roof and knew a police officer could have been killed when they threw things to try to stop him from climbing a ladder to reach them.
The regime alleges that the couple had been planning street disturbances. The “evidence” confiscated from their home included bottles, machetes, rebar and cardboard protest signs. The state claims that containers with fuel found in the home were Molotov cocktails.
Every household item or piece of scrap found in a poor Cuban household is considered a weapon when the state wants to convict a prisoner. By its logic the frying pan and the iron should have been cited too. With good aim, they can be deadly. As to the combustibles inside the home, Ms. Garro’s sister Yamilet Garro told independent journalist Augusto Cesar San Martín Albistur, “the items were for lighting during the blackouts that are quite common in the area.” For Castro, the most dangerous items were the antigovernment signs.
Ms. Garro’s real crime is her refusal to surrender her soul to the state. That makes her an exemplary Christian but a lousy revolutionary. The peril she presents is showing Cubans how to be both.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com