Across Cuba, children love to dance and act in their school
plays. But for Aymara Nieto’s two daughters, ages 7 and 12, something is always
missing when their school puts on a pageant. Their mother has not been able to
watch them perform since 2018, when she was arrested for exercising her right
“The girls want to have their mother there for their school
activities, and that has been taken from them. They have had to be so strong to
live with what is happening,” according to Aymara’s mother Griselda Muñoz.
For a while, Aymara’s daughters could visit her once a month in El Guatao prison, where they could hug her, exchange letters and tell her about the milestones that she could not be present for. But in March of this year, Aymara was transferred to the El Manati women’s prison in Las Tunas, over 400 miles from her children in Havana. No explanation was given for this transfer, which will make it almost impossible for Ayamara’s mother and children to visit her.
Arrest and Trial
Aymara, 43, is a member of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in
White), a group made up mostly of wives and relatives of Cuba’s political
prisoners. The Damas protest once a week to demand freedom for prisoners of
conscience. Aymara, who had previously taken part in other activist efforts, joined
the Damas after her husband Ismael Bori Reñi was arrested for his involvement
with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in April 2018.
On May 6, 2018, Aymara intended to take part in a campaign
called “We All March,” aimed at pressuring the government to release political
prisoners. But the march would not go according to the organizers’ plans.
“Right when she left the house, they detained her. Some
female police officers immediately grabbed her and started pulling her hair and
hitting her without saying a word. They took her to the prison in Santiago de
Las Vegas and held her for several days, probably so that her bruises would
subside,” says Griselda.
After holding her for fifteen days, the authorities allowed
Aymara to see her family. “They’re up to their tricks; they did this to shut me
up,” she told Griselda. Sure enough, in March 2019, Aymara was sentenced to
four years in prison for the supposed offenses of “assault” and “causing
damages.” At her trial, the prosecutor claimed that Aymara “led an act against
the revolutionary process” and that while she was being arrested, she “tore a
police officer’s clothing and struck her, causing scratches to her neck.”
State authorities did not permit Aymara to have her own
lawyer during the trial, failed to adhere to various deadlines and procedures, held
the trial behind closed doors and ignored clear signs of bias on the part of
Life in Prison
Life in Cuban prisons is complex and delicate, especially
for a political prisoner. Aymara’s rights to health, food and dignified
treatment are not respected. Shortages of medicine are frequent, meals are
scant and unhealthy, her family visits are monitored and mistreatment at the
hands of guards is frequent. Any attempt to report these violations is
punished, including through the use of solitary confinement.
“My daughter’s rights are being violated while time flies
by. It hurts me as well; she is my only daughter,” says Griselda.
Aymara’s husband Ismael also remains behind bars; he is
expected to be released in late March. The two were previously arrested for
distributing informative materials in 2016 and sentenced to a year in prison on
charges of public disorder. They were freed in July 2018, but Ismael was
re-arrested repeatedly for the rest of the year and eventually sentenced to two
more years for “contempt.” The couple have had their requests for conjugal
visits, the only avenue for them to see each other, denied for the past four
Griselda, aged 63, has moved into Aymara’s house in order to
keep it up and care for her two granddaughters. She is the only source of
economic support for herself, her granddaughters, Aymara and Ismael. Aymara’s
oldest daughter, who is 24 years old, lives elsewhere.
“It’s a very heavy load. At my age, I’m not as spry, but I
keep working so they don’t go hungry,” explains Griselda, who has worked as a
cook and a receptionist since Aymara’s sentencing. She and her granddaughters
attend church each Sunday, which she says is her source of strength to keep
going and to fight for her daughter’s release. “Aymara has always been a
fighter, that’s why they’re after her so badly. That’s why they locked her up
and why they do what they do to her – they know she is true to her principles,
the principles of the Damas de Blanco.”