Rosario was 43 years old when she first heard of the Damas de Blanco. At the time, she worked for the state-run Correos de Cuba (Cuban Mail Service) as one of the “citizens on foot” delivering letters and newspapers. In 2006, Rosario heard a radio interview with the Damas and immediately wanted to know more about the women’s organization and their demands.
“I first got involved in Santa Rita, at my church. After we left Mass, we would march all the way up 5th Avenue. I was active for six months before State Security began to threaten me and repress me and harass me,” she remembers.
State Security soon began to pressure Rosario’s friends and family as well; and this pressure only increased as the years went by. In 2011, her son was unjustly arrested and imprisoned.
Reinier Biscet Morales, Rosario’s only child, was 27 years old at the time. When he was arrested, the authorities made clear that they aimed to pressure Rosario into abandoning her activism. “Until you convince your mother to get out of all that, we’re going to prosecute you,” Rosario says the police told Reinier.
In detention, “they tortured him, they beat him,” says Rosario. She recalls the day when she tried to visit Reinier and was turned away because he had been sent to solitary confinement. “I began to cry and asked why, and they told me that he had put on a protest and called out unacceptable slogans.”
Reinier was imprisoned for 15 months, during which time Rosario worked ceaselessly for his freedom. She protested in the street holding up his photo, went out to protest wearing a prisoner’s uniform, gave interviews about the case, and asked for additional support from the other Damas.
Not long after her son was released, Rosario was fired from Correos de Cuba after eight years of service for ‘holding ideas against the Revolutionary process.’ She remembers, “not only couldn’t I get a job after that, but I was also being persecuted for being a Dama de Blanco, for defending human rights, for demanding democracy, for wanting us all to be equals.”
In order to make an income, Rosario set up a stall to sell home goods on the street in 2012. As an act of protest, she chose not to go through the process of acquiring a business license. As the years went by, she made her living there, with some ups and downs but always continuing to participate in the Damas’ activism.
After five years, Rosario’s life was turned upside-down again. She and another Dama held a protest in Havana’s Villa Panamericana neighborhood, speaking out against State Security agents who harassed and demanded bribes from street vendors. They cried out, “Up with human rights!,” “Down with corruption!,” and “Freedom for political prisoners!” In response, they were violently forced into a police car and detained.
Rosario spent 12 days in El Vivac Detainee Processing Center, during which time she went on hunger strike, even going without liquids for the first few days. She eventually lost consciousness and had to be brought to the infirmary. She was released after this incident, but officials told her that she would face trial soon.
Rosario reports that she was never informed of the charges against her, that she could not give a statement in her own defense, and that the process against her was completely arbitrary. A year after her arrest, she was called before a judge. “The trial was clearly designed to be rigged against opositores (those who oppose the Cuban government),” remembers the activist, who was not allowed to present any witness at the trial, either.
On March 21, 2019, the court handed down its decision. Rosario had been convicted of “speculation and hoarding,” “contempt,” and “disobedience” and given a three-year sentence. Instead of prison time or house arrest, she was told she would perform “Correctional Labor.”
A month after the sentencing, Rosario was called back to court, where a judge gave her a work assignment. “Blacks were born to sweep the street, so we’re going to have you sweeping the street,” the judge told her. Despite this racist affront, Rosario accepted the assignment, telling the courtroom that she would do it “with my head held high, because I had not committed any crime. I will be dressed in white and I will be out on the street for months, learning first-hand about this so-called Constitution.”
To this date, despite going through several bureaucratic processes to begin her sentence, Rosario has not yet been assigned a work shift.
Rosario continues her work as an opositora and a member of the organization Laura Pollán: Su Legado (Legacy of Laura Pollán), a group allied with the Damas and named after one of their founders. Like the Damas, Laura Pollán carries out non-violent protests to improve life for Cubans. Her son Reinier has emigrated from Cuba. She lives with constant uncertainty, still unsure if or when the State will require her to carry out her labor sentence.
Rosario’s conviction carries serious implications. According to the sentence, she will receive less pay and no promotions in her work. She cannot hold a passport, preventing her from leaving the country. Even Rosario’s travel within Cuba is restricted, as she cannot leave her local city without permission from a judge of the Eastern Havana Municipal Tribunal. She cannot visit her family members in other parts of Cuba without this permission, which she describes as a hardship.
In March of this year, Rosario was called before a judge once again, but despite waiting for hours, she was never seen. She still does not know if or when her Correctional Labor sentence will be carried out, leaving her in legal and emotional limbo.
Under Cuba’s quarantine measures in response to COVID-19, Rosario is now spending her days at home, but she is sure that when the crisis passes, she will take up her activism once again, no matter the consequences. She continues to support her community. She recently made 35 facemasks from her home that were shared with persons in need in the community.