Cuban "Lady in White" Speaks of Life in Spain

Interview With Ex-Prisoner’s Sister

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By Nieves San Martín

SAN FELIU DE LLOBREGAT, Spain, FEB. 25, 2011 ( Teresa Galbán lives in Spain now — her friendships and experiences from her years as one of Cuba’s Ladies in White are fresh memories, and her confidence in the Church is unfailing.

Teresa is a sister of Miguel Galbán Gutiérrez, one of the Cuban political prisoners released thanks to negotiations by the Church. The Galbáns and other members of their family agreed to come to Spain in exchange for Miguel’s freedom.

Exile hasn’t been easy — though a neonatology nurse, Teresa cannot find word because paperwork is lost somewhere in Cuban, or Spanish, bureaucracy.

In this interview with ZENIT, Teresa speaks about the efforts of the Ladies in White and the difficulties and joys of her new life in Spain.

ZENIT: When did you decide to form part of the Ladies in White?

Galbán: When my brother was arrested I knew nothing about politics or law. Outside Villa Marista in Havana, the headquarters of the general prison of the regime’s political police, I began to communicate with many of the relatives of those who were held in that dark place. We met there during visits every week that lasted 10 minutes. Back then we talked with one another and observed each other. I saw that some of them were brave, and that also began to give me some courage.

So that’s how we began to interact with one another. I understood that just because a human being wished to express himself freely he should not have to be imprisoned, and much less sanctioned with a long prison term.

The Ladies in White spoke with me from the time the group was established, but it was difficult for me to attend their activities, because I had a young daughter who today is 9 years old, and I lived 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the capital, the place where they began to meet.

Added to this was my mother’s situation who, because she didn’t understand the unjust imprisonment of my brother, whom she could not see because he was in a prison that was 200 kilometers (124 miles) from our home, was determined to do everything possible not to continue living in those conditions.

Added to this was the regime’s greater repression in areas outside of Havana. At times, surmounting all these inconveniences, I took part in Literary Teas and other activities. After the death of my dear mother, which occurred in October of 2008, I began to attend the church of St. Rita, with the difficulties of getting back home, since transport in Cuba is very lacking, and even more so on Sundays.

These impediments never stopped me from expressing my concern over the inhumane conditions in the prisons, outstanding among which were the lack of light, water, hygiene, poor food, as well as the ill treatment my brother was receiving from officials, from the state security officer, and from the prison guards of Agüica.

ZENIT: What was it like being part of the Ladies in White?

Galbán: I remember the Literary Teas, which are held on the 18th of every month in Laura Pollán’s home, our headquarters. We spoke there of the prisoners, of their situation, letters were read, poems that some of them wrote to us, we agreed on forthcoming activities; we prayed and encouraged one another.

It was admirable in the sense that we consoled one another, shared our relatives’ letters, and gave strength to each other. That grief at the same time formed a group; we all became friends. In the midst of this suffering I had the possibility to get to know excellent people, very battle-hardened, such as Laura, her daughter, Julia Núñez, Bertha Soler, Loyda Valdés and Reyna Luisa Tamayo, Mirian Leyva, Darelys Velázquez, Yamilka Morejón, Amanda Hernández e Iraida de la Riva, all whom I admire and esteem very much.

Another happening that I also recall is when we walked on the streets of 5th Avenue, adjoining the church of Saint Rita, the place where we met every Sunday, to pray to the Virgin, defender of impossible causes, to intercede for the liberty of our relatives. And we felt voices that said «you are very courageous, go on, we are with you.» Also, when we received the news of the release of some of our relatives from prison.

A sad experience was the sacrifice of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, may he rest in peace. [Zapata died Feb. 23, 2010, of a hunger strike protesting the prison conditions]. We lived that step by step with much torment, the moment that Reyna Luisa [his mother] with great sorrow showed us the blood-stained T-shirt from the beatings of her murdered son; I will never forget that moment.

ZENIT: Do you think Christians have supported you? To what degree?

Galbán: What better example than the mission that was headed by the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who acted as intermediary before Raúl Castro’s government, not only to obtain the release of 52 political prisoners of the so-called Black Spring of 2003, but also when the Ladies in White were being threatened outside the church of St. Rita by the state security forces and groveling mobs of «Street Dogs» (persons of the worst kind).

Now they are free men and Guillermo «Coco» Fariña is alive, thanks to the intervention of the Catholic Church, which we thank as the only organization on the island that does not bow to any political tendency.

In my case, from the first moment of my brother’s arrest, I cherished the moral, spiritual and solidaristic support of the parish of my place of residence, San Julián de los Güines, both of its priest as well as of the faithful, as well as of the Religious Daughters of Charity, who had a center in my municipality.

ZENIT: What is the ultimate objective of the Ladies in White?

Galbán: The objective of the Ladies in White, who are a group of women who dress in the color of peace, visit churches and walk weekly on the streets of Havana, is to demand from the Communist government of the Castro brothers, the liberty of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons, unjustly arrested in the famous raid known as «Cuba’s Black Spring.»

ZENIT: How have you been doing in Spain and what support have you received?

Galbán: I am living in San Feliu de Llobregat, Barcelona, with my brother, my husband and daughters, and the rest of the family, thank God. Exile is sad; I dream of the day that my homeland will be free and that I will be able to return to it, where all Cubans will be able to live in peace.

Since our arrival, we have been greatly supported and backed by the Spanish people, including support for the cause of liberty and democracy in Cuba, and this brings us joy. We spent more than seven and a half years enduring all types of reprisals by the island’s political authorities.

In regard to support, we are grateful to the Spanish government for having brought us to this country with several relatives. Sadly, after we landed, we have not had any contact with the official authorities, they placed us at the mercy of an NGO, the Spanish Red Cross, which says it knows nothing about what we were assured in Havana by officials of the Spanish Consulate, before getting on the plane that brought us as exiles to the motherland.

Every day we get up hoping that the government will reflect on its position and tell us something different from what is happening at present.

ZENIT What would you like to do professionally? What are the obstacles in your way?

Galbán: I would like to dedicate myself to my nursing profession, to which I have dedicated 23 years of my life, 14 of them as a specialist in neonatology.

At present I have not been able to get my studies accredited because the Cuban authorities only sent my title and grade certificate, which were legalized before the Spanish Consulate in Havana. In this country we are also asked for the transcripts. I have been waiting for several months for the official response to this situation.

At present, sadly, I have not found any employment, or studies of formation
, not even in private health establishments.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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