Six Years in Prison for Painting ‘Patria y Vida’ on a Sheet

Sissi Abascal, a young Cuban woman who began to protest at 16 and didn’t stop

Annia Zamora and her daughter Sissi Abascal. (Courtesy)

“That day we were at home and I connected to the internet through my cell phone. There I began to see the videos of the demonstrations”

By Yoani Sanchez (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – At the age of 16, Sissi Abascal Zamora was not, like any other teenager, walking with her friends or wearing new clothes. At that age she became part of the Ladies in White Movement and she lived between arrests and police operations. On July 11, 2021, her participation in the popular protests of that day led her to prison with a six-year sentence.

Her mother, Annia Zamora Carmenate, has no doubts: “Sissi is a political prisoner.” From that quiet girl, who differed from her brothers for being very calm, she became one of the most consistent activists in the province of Matanzas. In the little town of Carlos Rojas, the young woman – on 11J (July 11th) she was 23 years old – starred in an intense demonstration together with dozens of neighbors.

“That day we were at home and I connected to the internet through my cell phone. There I began to see the videos of the demonstrations, first in San Antonio de los Baños and then in Havana, so I told my husband, Armando Abascal Serrano,” about it, Zamora details to 14ymedio. “Then Sissi tells me that people were gathering in the Carlos Rojas park.”

The family lives on the outskirts of the town and when they got out on the road there were already other people waiting for them. “They know that on other occasions we have also protested.” In November 2020, the Abascal family was part of the group of residents of that community, belonging to the Jovellanos municipality, who demonstrated in the streets against the long blackouts.

Since a long time earlier, saying the surname Abascal among the neighbors is like remembering that the first name of the town was Cimarrones, after the slaves who did not accept the stocks or the whip of the foreman and escaped to the surrounding mountains. But these rebels of today are not facing slavers with dogs, but policemen who brandish their tonfas and lock them up in dungeons.

“We kept going and arrived at the park. That was tremendous. Everyone joined in. Right away, two State Security officers appeared and took my husband to the station in front of the park.” The arrest emboldened the protesters. “We were joined by people that we had never seen at other demonstrations we’ve carried out.”

Sissi climbed onto a bench, “suddenly a sheet appeared. We put it on the sidewalk and wrote ‘Patria y Vida’ [Homeland and Life] on it.” She took off her shoelaces and I gave her mine too. With that we tied the fabric to a branch of a flamboyan tree on one side and on the other we tied it to a crutch. We put the sign on a bicycle and started to go around the park.” Patria y Vida is a Grammy award winning song by popular Cuban artists that synthetized the discontent on the island.

That month of July the town of Carlos Rojas, like the whole Island, was experiencing critical days. “In the municipality of Jovellanos there was a very intense outbreak of covid-19, we had no medication, the isolation centers had very poor conditions,” Zamora recalls. The lack of freedoms was combined with the economic crisis and the epidemiological situation. That Sunday patience reached the limit.

Zamora closes her eyes and seems to be living that day again. “The people gathered in the park and shouted Food! Freedom! Down with the dictatorship! We want medicines,” also “Patria y Vida!, that slogan was the one that was repeated the most, the one that will go down in history: there were old people, children and many young people too.”

Popular protests on July 11, 2021 in the town of Carlos Rojas, in the municipality of Jovellanos. (Courtesy)

Then the patrol car arrived to transfer Armando Abascal Serrano from the town police station to Jovellanos. “People stood in front of the vehicle to prevent it moving, but the police dealt many blows and finally took him away,” she says. The rest of the afternoon, those who remained continued to repeat slogans until around 6:30 pm when a bus and a truck with shock troops arrived.

“In the bus and the truck were Yonaikis Villegas Oviedo, the mayor of Jovellanos, also the representative of the Communist Party, the director of the Inder (National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation), members of the political police dressed in civilian clothes, members of the Government, the Party and the head of the Communals,” lists the mother.

“They came with sticks and stones in their hands, later we learned that they were even carrying bottles. It was a very strong aggression. They hit me and I fell against the bicycle that held the sheet, Sissi fell on me.” Zamora adds that the Communal official attacked her in the head, eyes, arms and her belly. “I had just had surgery and I fainted, so I could no longer see my daughters.”

When she came to, she heard someone yelling at her that Lisi, her other daughter, was injured after receiving several bottle blows to the head. The mother ran to the Polyclinic and on the way her shoes came off, the shoes whose laces had helped tie the sign. There she found her daughter, who was having her head bandaged. “She also had one hand with the fingers turned backwards that the orthopedist had to treat to put them back forwards.”

Shortly after, Sissi also arrived at the Polyclinic, having been beaten. Half an hour later the three women were transferred in an ambulance to Jovellanos. “There were many injured there because the police had distributed many blows. They gave my daughter Lisi a certificate of injuries, because they had to give her stitches on the head wound, but they did not want to give Sissi and me anything.”

Moment in which Lisi Abascal, Sissi’s sister, is attacked by an official mob, then she receives sutures on her head after being hit with a bottle. (Collage)

That day they were able to return home and on Tuesday, July 13, they went to the municipal police station to file a complaint for the injuries against Lisi. “Even today, ten months later, neither the police nor the Prosecutor’s Office give details, they always evade,” laments Zamora.

The family patriarch was missing for 14 days. “We took him some clothes to the Jovellanos police station and they stole them, they never gave them to him. He was imprisoned for two months in the Combinado del Sur and then he was fined,” explains the woman. “On September 20 in the morning, an official from the Municipal Court of Jovellanos arrived and she knocked on the door of our house. She had in her hands a prosecutor’s request for a six-year sentence against Sissi.”

The trial took place on November 3. In the trial, they judged not only the young woman, but also Frank Ernesto Trujillo Hervis and Yoendris Torres Corría,ann 11J protesters. “Frank — when my daughter was being beaten — he pulled her out of the group of women. He is now sentenced to six years in prison.”

At the trial in the Municipal Court of Jovellanos, Zamora attended as a witness: “I went in, made my statement and then I could only return to hear the conclusions. It almost gave me a heart attack to hear so many lies. The prosecutor Odilia Casallas García lied blatantly. She said that since 1959 no one had been mistreated and beaten by the police in Cuba.”

Sissi’s sister couldn’t stand that, she got up from her seat and contradicted the Prosecutor. “Our family has been hit many times. I still have stitches on my head from being hit with a bottle.” Immediately the guards took her out of the room.

The mayor of the Ministry of the Interior, Silvia Martínez Montero, accused Sissi of attack and contempt, although the family insists that this officer was not present on Sunday in Carlos Rojas park. “The trial was a farce, a clown show. Not even the defense attorneys could do their job,” Zamora denounces.

The Labiotec women’s prison, where Sissi Abascal is imprisoned in the province of Matanzas, and Annia Zamora with a bag of food to take to the visit with her daughter. (Collage)

The appeal trial was held on December 27, under an intense security operation, and the sentence of six years in prison was confirmed. The young woman was confined in the Matanzas women’s prison, Labiotec. “It’s a nasty, sad place. It has two buildings and she’s in one of them in cubicle three on the third floor.”

But during the phone calls, the young woman’s great concern is not the prison conditions but her family. To calm her mother, she reiterates: “Don’t worry, remember how many dungeons, beatings and detentions I have experienced.” She also wants to know details of the other prisoners of that historic day of protests.

When Annia Zamora Carmenate asks her daughter what she wants her to bring in the food bag that she tries to prepare for each visit, the young woman asks for little or nothing. Although her mother insists, she responds in monosyllables. In those moments, she returns to being the shy and quiet girl from the town of Carlos Rojas.

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5 thoughts on “Six Years in Prison for Painting ‘Patria y Vida’ on a Sheet

  • Dan (the fellow that “george orwells” called an “imbecile”), implies that he works in the US prison system: “come to work with me some day in a US prison”. Clearly that is just another falsehood from one who is well practiced in providing them. Reality is that Dan is just a couch potato with little or no real knowledge of Cuba, and in particular of its jails.

  • Olga and Aunty, want to come to work with me some day in a US prison ? You two cheerleaders for the powerful know not of what you speak.

  • Curt, Dan, you are so lucky you were born in USA and not in North Korea or Christian and homosexual in Iran. God bless America

  • Dan, sitting on your relatively safe perch it’s astounding how much empathy you have developed for other people who challenge despotic authority and get cruel punishment for exercising an internationally recognized human right. Your snide, uncaring remark about this young woman is like telling an antiwar protestor in Russia under Putin that they should be happy they are not in North Korea where punishment could be even greater. You constantly sidestep injustice saying it could be worse. Great argument!

  • She’s lucky to be in Cuba and not Colombia.

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