Saily Gonzalez Walks through Santa Clara Dressed in White with a Flower for Antonio Maceo
Saily Gonzalez had already made the announcement on Monday, November 15, when an angry, violent mob prevented her from leaving her home. Her protests were limited to applauding at three in the afternoon and hanging her white sheets from a window. She was unable to do what she wanted to do on that day but she swore she would walk the streets of Santa Clara while holding a white flower the next day. And if she could not do it the next day, she would do it whenever she could. That moment finally came on Thursday.
She carried a yellow flower, “because there aren’t any white flowers on my patio,” said the young woman, who is a member of the dissident group Archipelago and owner of Amarillo B&B. Wearing a white blouse and a small cross hanging from her neck, Gonzalez recorded herself on video as she walked.
“I decided to take my flower to Antonio Maceo for freedom in Cuba, for the rights of all Cubas and for the release of political prisoners,” she tells 14ymedio. It has been one year since Cuban artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Castillo, members of the San Isidro Movement, were arrested and imprisoned for protesting the arrest and summary trial of dissident rapper Denis Solis. The two have been on a hunger strike.
“This is my way of honoring those people who began, or took up, this struggle to demand our rights,” she says in the video.
She told 14ymedio that, as she was walking home, no one was following her.
“This is an individual, civic and totally peaceful demonstration. It’s my response to what is happening here in Cuba,” Gonzalez says to the camera as she walks. She recalls the more than 600 prisoners arrested during or after demonstrations July 11, including artists Alcantara and Osorbo, who she says remain in prison “in very poor condition,” as well as 15-year-old Reniel Rodriguez, who was placed in a center for problem youth for having participated in the July 11 protests.
Rodriguez was released on Thursday in the wake of strong criticism on social media and pressure from international organizations. Barely two minutes into the video a passerby greets her. She asks him, “Do you want to join me? I’m demonstrating.”
The man smiles, waves and says hello to the camera. “Oh, good. Me too,” he quickly responds before continuing on his way. Later in the video someone stops to say, “All the solidarity this has generated is incredible.”
The activist relates how, earlier that day, a woman stopped to tell Gonazalez she herself could not do anything because she would lose her job but that she stood with all those of us who are demanding freedom, human rights and the release of political prisoners.
Gonzalez states that recording herself on her phone provides a level of protection and asks all her followers to stay connected until she ends the transmission.
“I am not going to encourage anyone to do what I’m doing because this is something that takes conviction. You have to have a clear head,” she insists. “I am very clear-headed and I am not going to quit, not in Cuba, not in Sant Clara, where State Security might be the most dangerous.” During her walk, she does not indicate where she is going to avoid incidents such as those that occurred on the 14th and 15th when she was confronted by women who, she says, “do not represent us.”
On Monday and for several days prior, flags of the Federation of Cuban Women were on display outside her home in Santa Clara as members of the organization shouted insults at her.
“I want to contribute to my country. I want to contribute to efforts for a better Cuba. This is my country and I have rights too,” says Gonzalez just as she arrives at her destination, the statue of Antonio Maceo, where she lays her flower and quickly leaves.
After the regime used threats, acts of repudiation and the militarization of cities to disrupt the Civic March for Change, Archipiélago called for peaceful protests to continue. It urged would-be protesters to applaud, bang pots or wear white clothing until November 27. The date marks the one-year anniversary of a sit-in involving more than 300 people in front of the Ministry of Culture. Subsequently, about thirty participants met with Deputy-Minister Fernando Rojas.
One of Archipiélago’s most visible members, playwright Yunior Garcia Aguilera, left Cuba for Spain on Tuesday. The group has offered no explanation for his departure. Saily Gonzalez was one of the members who publicly demonstrated after the march in solidarity with Garcia Aguilera. “I don’t think anyone has the right to judge or criticize what Yunior did. We are not the ones to judge or condemn,” she said.