Berta Soler, the figurehead for the Ladies in White, women who march dressed in white every Sunday demanding the release of political prisoners in Havana, Cuba, was recently arrested at the headquarters of the activist group. Activists reported the development last night through the social media network Twitter.
This adds to the numerous times that Berta Soler, the Ladies in White that she leads, and men who have accompanied them, have been deprived of their basic freedoms.
Arrestada en La Habana la defensora #DDHH Berta Soler Líder @DamasdBlanco y co coordinadora del Foro por Derechos y Libertades @ForoDyL al intentar protesta pública en otro Domingo #TodosMarchamos
Fotos del operativo policía política de esta semana tomadas por @jangelmoya pic.twitter.com/OX3wjWjlwq
— @Ailermaria (@ailermaria) April 8, 2018
Her activism is so widely recognized, that when President Donald Trump addressed the Cuban community in exile, he mentioned Berta Soler by name. The Castro regime refused to allow her to leave the island to attend the meeting, thereby becoming the visible face of dissent.
Trump said, “I want to welcome two people who are not here: José Daniel Ferrer and Berta Soler. The two were not allowed to leave” but “we are with you and with the people.”
Who are the Ladies in White
The Ladies in White emerged in 2003, in the wake of what is known as the Black Spring, when a Cuban regime crackdown sent 75 dissidents and journalists to prison.
They are the wives, mothers, and relatives of Cuban political prisoners. They began a campaign to demand the release of the prisoners, walking in silence dressed in white clothes, marching in processions to churches and carrying photographs of their relatives detained by the regime.
— Cubanos por el Mundo (@Cubanoselmundo) June 16, 2017
Now they represent everyone. They are fighting on behalf of everyone who has been oppressed for exercising freedom of expression in a regime where only one political party is allowed, only the authorized newspaper is printed, and the people do not elect their rulers but rather power is passed down form generation to generation.
In February of last, year Berta Soler met with the Archbishop of Havana who asked the regime to enter a dialogue with the opposition. “We ask that the Catholic Church pronounce itself, because whoever is silent is giving up, and he said to me: ‘No Berta, not always. We have proposed to the Cuban government that it should speak with the opposition, but it’s one thing for us to suggest it, and another thing for them to do it,” said Soler.
“We were able to give him some names of those who have told us that we could never go to church any more,” Soler said. That is, in Cuba, the lack of freedom of expression includes the absence of freedom of worship.
As the church was a focal point of the protest, many activists were forbidden from entering the place of worship. “We can’t leave our homes, and the police are constantly monitoring our headquarters. No less than thirty women in the city of Havana are arrested on a typical Sunday, and no less than 60 or 70 on the whole island,” Soler explained.
Berta Soler has not hesitated to argue that, “We know that Pope Francis is not the liberator of Cuba.” Although she thanked him for blessing a people who needed him so much, she suggest that if she could meet Pope Francis personally, she would ask him to call for a halt to the violence of the regime.
These state security measures are nothing new. Back in the 1960s, when the presence and influence of Che Guevara was still in full force, there were forced labor camps – the UMAPs – where ‘improper behavior’ was corrected. The regime sent both homosexuals and religious people because both the love and the faith of citizens should be at the service of the revolution.
Physical violence towards the Ladies in White
The repression they suffer is not only ideological, but also physical. Even during the so-called “Women’s Week” they were beaten by the regime’s police forces.
Caridad Ramírez Utria, who heads he Cuban Libertarian Party-José Martí, distanced herself from the Ladies in White, after 10 days in intensive care after a beating by the Castro police during a demonstration.
Pregnant women have not been spared either. In tribute to the abuses suffered, the exiled artist and activist Ana Olema, took photos of Lady Yilennis Aguilera, the Lady in White, pregnant, who received a beating by the repressive state forces that caused the loss of the son she was expecting.