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"Pieces of the Island"-An English Translation
Category Archives: Berta Soler
May 21, 2013Posted by on
This 20th of May 2013, Cuban Independence Day, Cuban exiles and other members of the community of Miami went to the historic Freedom Tower, where hundreds of Cubans passed through in the 1960′s when they arrived to the United States as refugees, to participate in a chat with 3 Ladies in White: Berta Soler (national representative of the group), Laura Labrada (daughter of Laura Pollan) and Belkis Cantillo (representative of the group in Santiago de Cuba). It was an event organized by Miami Dade College.
Before the chat, the 3 Ladies in White offered a press conference, in which dissident Guillermo Farinas also took part in. There, they responded various questions by the press and debated topics such as the constant repression they face in the island for trying to assist Sunday Mass, the fact that former political prisoners of conscience can’t travel outside of the country, the warm welcome on behalf of the Cuban exile community and the current situation of the youth on the island.
Soler called on young Cubans on the island to not leave the country and to stay and fight for it, while she also called on the children and grandchildren of the older exiles to keep supporting the struggle for freedom from wherever they are.
Once the last questions were asked by the press, the 3 activists went up on stage, where Miami Dade College’s president, Eduardo Padron, awaited them. The audience received them with a standing ovation.
Cuban-born international pop star Gloria Estefan shared some words about the symbolism of the Freedom Tower and about the importance of the Ladies in White and their peaceful activism in Cuba. She pointed that “we Cubans are just one people, and nothing will ever change that, ever“. The singer handed the women a plaque with photos of the march in which thousands of Miami residents took to the streets in support of the Ladies in White on March 25 of 2010. The march was convoked by the Estefans after the women were brutally beat by State Police in Havana on March 17th and was caught on film. Estefan explained that the police authorities of Miami had confirmed to her that more than 230,000 people took part in the historic march for solidarity down Miami’s emblematic Calle Ocho.
Soler, Labrada and Cantillo were interviewed by Miami-based journalist Maria Elvira Salazar. They discussed topics such as the acts of state repression against them and other dissidents for defending freedom, the current situation of the everyday Cuban citizen, the motives which led them to take up their struggle, their convictions, and the legacy of Laura Pollan, fallen leader of the group. Her daughter, Laura Labrada, or “Laurita” as she is known within the Ladies in White, affirmed that the regime had to do with Pollan’s death. In an emotional statement, she also expressed that her mother’s passing only gave her more strength to march not only for the freedom of all political prisoners, but also the freedom of an entire nation.
Before the event came to an end, Eduardo Padron handed the women the Miami Dade College’s Presidential Medal of Freedom with the words “Guardians of Freedom” engraved.
It was another one of those encounters which reminds Cubans that, despite the geographic distance and the difference of ideas, we are only one people, one nation, that fights for freedom and needs each and every one of its sons and daughters to achieve this goal.
All photos taken by Raul Garcia and Jennifer Hernandez from “Pedazos de la Isla”. Feel free to share.
May 14, 2013Posted by on
Cuban born musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan recently met with Pope Francis in the Vatican and took a very special message to him in the name of the people of Cuba.
According to a report by ‘CBS’, the Estefans asked the Pope to please pray for human rights on the island. It’s the second time they do so, the first being with Pope John Paul II.
Pope Francis recently met with the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, after a public Mass and told her and the Cuban people to “continue onward”.
Gloria Estefan is slated to host a chat this upcoming Monday, May 20th, with Soler and other Cuban activists in Miami’s Historic Freedom Tower. The 20th of May is also Cuba’s Independence Day, which is not recognized by the dictatorship. The event is free but tickets are required and can be obtained here, through Miami Dade College.
On March 25th 2010, Gloria and Emilio organized a massive march down Miami’s 8th Street (‘Calle Ocho’) in solidarity with the Ladies in White after a brutal beating by the political police on March 17th 2010 in Havana which was caught on film. More than 100,000 people participated in the march, most of them dressed in white, in a gesture of support with the Cuban women.
May 14, 2013Posted by on
As was recently reported, Ladies in White marched throughout the island this past 12th of May- Mother’s Day. In Havana, they dedicated their march to Laura Pollan Toledo, leader of the group who died in 2011 in extremely strange and mysterious circumstances. Her daughter, Laura Labrada Pollan, read some emotional words in her memory. The women also demanded the immediate release of Sonia Garro Alfonso, Cuban mother and Lady in White who has been behind bars for 1 year and 2 months.
They also sent a message to Berta Soler, representative of the group, thanking her for her tireless work taking the Cuban reality to the world. Angel Moya Acosta, dissident leader and former political prisoner, published some photos of this activity on his Facebook account. He also uploaded the following video on his YouTube channel:
May 8, 2013Posted by on
The representative of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, assisted a Mass offered by Pope Francis in the Vatican after a special invitation to be seated front row.
According to the official website of the Ladies in White, as soon as the Pope concluded his Mass he greeted everyone seated up front, among them Soler.
The activist was present with a Cuban flag and she told the Pope that she came in representation of the Ladies in White, the relatives of political prisoners and Cuba.
After giving him her his blessings, the Pope told her: “Continue onward“.
Simple but profound words.
Pope Francis has done what his predecessor, Benedict XVI, chose not to do when he was in Cuba during March 2012: dedicate one moment for those who fight for freedom on the island.
Berta Soler has said that this encounter has been one of the highlights of her trip outside of Cuba.
May 7, 2013Posted by on
After Berta Soler’s emotional trip to Miami- the heart of the Cuban exile- she has continued to take the Cuban reality to other places with many exiles, such as New Jersey and now, Puerto Rico. The following is my translation of a piece by Mario Alegre Barrios, published in one of Puerto Rico’s most famous newspapers, “El Nuevo Dia”. It is a must-read interview with Soler:
“We cannot wait for the Castros to die”
Berta Soler, president of the Ladies in White, says that a social explosion in Cuba is imminent
By Mario Alegre Barrios / firstname.lastname@example.org
When we said goodbye to each other two years ago, in Havana, neither of us thought that we would see each other again. At least I didn’t.
I was wrong.
The face of Berta Soler- cofounder and president of Cuba’s Ladies in White- now has another Light: her stare shines and draws a white smile which contrasts that solemn expression we met at the home of Laura Pollan, the headquarters of this group which, for the last decade, has been one of the fundamental fronts of resistance against the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro.
Visiting Puerto Rico since last Wednesday, today Berta continues the trip she started nearly two months ago and which led her- along with two other Ladies in White- to Brussels to receive the Andrei Sakharov Award which was given to the women by the European Parliament in 2005, acknowledging their struggle for human rights.
In the same way she gave that chat in the summer of 2011, Berta speaks in torrents, as if time was running out to speak about the reality of her country which has been under the longest dictatorship in the world (for more than half a century).
The alleged liberalization of requisites to travel abroad which were announced with much hype by Cuban president Raul Castro a few months ago is nothing other than “cosmetic”- assures Berta- which represents nothing for the lives of the majority of Cubans. For them, the $100 for a passport is a fortune.
“The Cuban government is trying to employ many strategies so that the International community may think that there are changes in Cuba”, says Berta. “In Cuba nothing has changed for the good…there are cosmetic changes which are not going to fix the problem. These changes in travel laws, for example, are not real; they are just selling another image”.
“When they announced the trips”, she adds, “the people were very happy, they thought ‘we are finally going to be able to travel’, when the reality is that virtually no one has the $100 to pay for the passport and if they obtain that amount then it is nearly impossible for them to buy the Visa, a plane ticket, and even less, to have enough money to pay for their stay outside the country. That’s why this change, in reality, is just a big lie”.
This woman- a microbiologist by profession who had to stop practicing her career because she opposed the dictatorship- explains that when she and her fellow Ladies asked to leave the country to pick up the Sakharov Award, “the government, which knew we would continue denouncing the situation abroad, only had two alternatives: let us travel, which was bad for them, and not let us, which would have been even worse because there would be absolutely no justifications”.
“For us this trip has been very important because we have taken Cuba’s reality to the world, firsthand, and have denounced the government which is asphyxiated, desperate in its attempt to make the world think that they are implementing positive changes”.
Cofounder of the Ladies in White alongside Laura Pollan- who died on October 14th of 2011- Berta explains that this group was born in 2003 to “go to church to pray for the freedom of our loved ones” after that same year the government jailed 74 men and 1 woman for political motives. The prisoners were finally released in 2011 after the Catholic Church’s mediation and the collaboration of the Spanish government.
However, since 2008, the group’s leadership became even more inclusive and took up the cause of defending all peaceful political prisoners, “and for those that weren’t political, we also demand that the government respect their fundamental rights”.
“Violence against us has increased”, explains Berta, referring to the actions carried out by the brigades of State Security, “they punch us, they strip our clothes off in public, they deport us from the city during dawn hours, they tie us, drag us through the streets and even carry out gestures as if they are going to shoot us with guns”.
The list continues: they get spit on, are under vigilance for 24 hours, are kept in buses for more than 2 days without permission to go to the bathroom, and when they absolutely cannot hold it anymore they are allowed to do so but only next to the vehicle, under the stare of the police agents who mock them.
“This happens in all the provinces of Cuba… In December 2011 we created delegations from Guantanamo to Pinar del Rio (East to West). We are already more than 230 Ladies in White”, she says, “With our resistance we have won over Fifth Avenue (Havana) and they can’t tolerate that. Nearly every Sunday they physically assault us, just for marching in silence with a flower at hand”.
With the death of Laura Pollan, the group’s presence did not waver and her memory turned into inspiration for those who display solidarity with the Ladies in White.
“We are continuing her legacy. Laura was a dignified, bold and smart woman who achieved the release of our loved ones who, in reality cannot be classified as ‘freed’ because they still have an extra penal license and their causes are still open”, she explains. “The government has always done all in its power to train women and infiltrate our movement. That doesn’t worry us because we are peaceful and transparent women”.
In regards to the Sajarov Award, Berta says that “we knew the day would come where we would be in Brussels” to receive it. She adds that this international acknowledgment “is a shield, a protection for our struggle and also a compromise with the European Parliament”.
Perhaps like never before, now the struggle seems to be reaching its climax with a regime that is significantly eroded, and a people whose patience is at very critical level.
Berta sighs when she assures that “we cannot wait for the Castros to die, our struggle cannot wait for that”.
“There are people who last 100 years or more”, she points out, “Now there is a growing group of dissidents, many of them who are young and organized… we are waiting for the social explosion, something which is about to happen at any moment. We have to be ready to guide those people and remove the Castros in order to have a new Cuba where democracy is respected, where human rights are respected. People are already expressing themselves publicly on the streets, on the buses, in the hospitals, in the market, because the Cuban government has nothing to offer, just hunger and repression”.
With this same idea, Berta adds that “for more than 50 years the government has only handed out fear and repression… it is important that, now, we have been able to come out to ask the International community for moral and spiritual support, and that the heads of States take up a hard line approach with the Cuban government”.
“We blame the Castro regime, signaling it as a violator of human rights”, she insists. “When everyone outside of Cuba raises their voices, the Cuban government will be unarmed”.
The chat then takes a turn towards the subject of the political situation in Venezuela and what it means for Cuba.
“For the Cuban government, it is very worrying. Chavez gave barrels of oil to Cuba which did not go to the people”, she comments. “At this moment, Cuba is very afraid because the help from Venezuela could collapse at any moment. Maduro may not give Cuba the same resources which Chavez gave them. That is one factor that may affect the regime. That is what we want: that the Cuban government be asphyxiated”.
- Are you happy?
“No, I am not, because there is no freedom in my country. Because I live in a country without rights, where my children are kicked out of school because they are the sons and daughters of a counter-revolutionary”.
- Do you feel hate?
“Not at all, there is only love in my heart… I do not hate anyone”.
- Not even the Castro brothers?
“No, I do not hate them. I only pray that real justice condemns them as should be. That’s why I don’t want them to die; I hope they live to see the change in Cuba. That would be their punishment. God is the one who knows when to take life away, and I pray He doesn’t take their life just yet. God has not taken Fidel Castro because he has no place for him, while the devil must think ‘he can’t come here either because he’ll take my spot away’”.
Once again, her laughter. She seems to be full of certainties now.
We end our chat.
We hug. She says she hopes we see each other again some day.
“When Cuba is free”, she adds.
We say goodbye
I don’t know why, but something tells me that this time it’s forever.
See the orginal interview, in Spanish, here.
May 2, 2013Posted by on
Here is a video-report with images of some of the events in which Berta Soler, representative of the Ladies in White, took part in the city of Miami, “the capital of the Cuban exile”.
The events in this video include the press conference Soler held at the University of Miami, an emotional encounter with ex political prisoners from the 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s in “La Casa del Preso” (‘The House of the Prisoner’), a vigil in honor of Laura Pollan, a tribute to Orlando Zapata Tamayo and a moving Mass at the emblematic Ermita Shrine.
Berta Soler passed through Miami inspiring and re-inspiring many, letting them know that the struggle for freedom is very much alive and that their are no Cubans from here, nor Cubans from over there…just Cubans.
April 29, 2013Posted by on
A number of Ladies in White were violently attacked and arrested by agents of the Cuban dictatorship this Sunday, April 28th, as they tried to assist Mass to pray for the freedom of Cuba.
One of the women who suffered the worst beatings was Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, representative of the group for the province of Santiago de Cuba who recently returned to Cuba after traveling to Brussels to receive the Sajarov Award alongside Laura Labrada Pollan and Berta Soler.
Cantillo’s arrest took place when a group of these women were on their way to the Rosario Church of Palma Soriano. The activist told ‘Diario de Cuba’ that various men, agents of the political police, were the ones who carried out the beating against her, even punching and attacking the women with umbrellas. “They punched me in one of my breasts, they kicked my ribs”, Belkis told the digital newspaper.
Other detainees were Taimi Vega Biscet, Yaima Naranjo, Mariela Rodríguez, Niurka Carmona, Denia Fernández, Madelaine Santos, Yasnay Ferrer and Yanela Ferrer, according to ex prisoner and dissident José Daniel Ferrer García who published the information on his Twitter account (@jdanielferrer).
Another 30 women managed to make it inside the church, but the political police organized an act of repudiation which consisted in shouts of death threats, racial slurs and other offensive phrases, according to Aime Garces, one of the Ladies inside. She explained to this blog that despite the repression “the Ladies in White will continue firm and without fear”.
Jose Daniel Ferrer recounted that Father Palma displayed solidarity with the persecuted women. On the YouTube channel of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) videos of what happened in Palma Soriano have been published:
In other parts of the island, Ladies in White marched and assisted Mass, as was the case in the province of Matanzas and in Havana. Dissident leader and former political prisoner of conscience Angel Moya Acosta published various photos of these women marching in Havana on his Twitter account (@jangelmoya).
Moya recounts that 44 Ladies marched in the capital, demanding the release of Sonia Garro Alfonso (one of their members, jailed for more than a year) and her husband Ramon Alejandro Munoz. They were accompanied by more than 40 men, human rights activists.
Meanwhile in Miami, the representative of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, participated in an emotional and very symbolic Mass at the Ermita Shrine, along with exiled Ladies in White and former political prisoners, as well as many members of Miami’s exile community. The Mass, hosted by Father Rumin, was dedicated to the fallen Laura Pollan and all martyrs of the Cuban dictatorship. There was a moment of prayer for the Ladies who were violently arrested that morning in Cuba, simply for trying to do what so many people were doing on that afternoon in Miami.
Soler was handed a Cuban flag with the image of the Virgin of Chartiy, while she presented a Cuban flag at the altar.
A moving surprise came when Cuban musician Amaury Gutierrez showed up to sing “Laura“, a song written by Luis Piloto and dedicated to Laura Pollan. In Cuba, the Ladies in White sing this song each Sunday after carrying out their Sunday marches.
Soler has been received with much affection by the Cuban exile, while she has been seeking more international support for the internal opposition.
Through an excessive amount of violence, the dictatorship has sent a clear message to Berta Soler and other activists who have traveled outside the country to let the world know about the Cuban reality, as was the case of the repression against Belkis Cantillo, just days after having returned from her trip abroad. However, the Ladies in White are also sending out a clear message to that same dictatorship: they do not fear them, they will continue out on the streets and they will not rest until Cuba is free.
April 25, 2013Posted by on
Miami is getting ready to welcome Berta Soler.
Soler, representative of the Ladies in White, will participate in a heartfelt tribute to Laura Pollan (fallen leader of the Ladies) and all the victims of the Cuban dictatorship this Saturday, 27th of April, in Coral Gables (Miami) from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at Merrick Park, in front of the Coral Gables Town Hall Building, on LeJeune Road and Miracle Mile.
The representation of the Ladies in White in the United States has invited all Cuban organizations and individuals to this event which is being described as a “vigil-encounter”.
After the mysterious death of Laura Pollan in 2011, numerous members of the exile community in Miami met at the same park to carry out a vigil in honor of the leader of the Ladies in White.
Berta Soler will participate in Mass at la Ermita de la Caridad, the emblematic sanctuary of the Cuban exile, located at 3609 South Miami Avenue, at 12:30 PM on Sunday, April 28th.
In 2010, more than 100,000 people marched down Miami’s famous 8th Street in a display of support with the Ladies in White after musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan convoked the demonstration. It is expected that numerous people will participate in the events with Soler this weekend to display their solidarity with these women who march Sunday after Sunday for the freedom of all political prisoners and the freedom of Cuba.
Berta Soler will also offer a press conference in the University of Miami on Saturday morning.
On Sunday the 28th at 9 AM, Soler will participate alongside Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of assassinated political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, in a public event in tribute to the martyr. It will be take place at Triangle Park, located on Okeechobee Road and Palm Avenue, in Hialeah, 33010, in front of the Zapata memorial statue.
The Lady in White has already been in different countries denouncing the repressive situation against the internal opposition. As soon as she arrived in Spain, Soler declared that her purpose was not to travel, but instead to condemn the Cuban dictatorship for the deaths of Laura Pollan, Oswaldo Paya, Harold Cepero and so many other martyrs.
As more public events with Soler in Miami are announced, this post will be updated.
April 22, 2013Posted by on
Dozens of members of the Ladies in White assisted Mass this Sunday, April 21st, despite numerous cordons set up by the political police. The women prayed for the freedom of all political prisoners as they habitually do, and also in solidarity with victims of violence in Cuba, like the 40 hunger strikers of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), as well as the victims of a terrorist attack this past week in the US city of Boston.
Former political prisoner of conscience Angel Moya Acosta offered more details on his Twitter account (@jangelmoya). ”50 Ladies in White marched down 5th Avenue and dedicated their march to the hunger strikers in Santiago de Cuba, as well as the victims of the terrorist attack in Boston”.
More than 170 people were injured while 3 died in the Boston bombings. Meanwhile, in Eastern Cuba, the repressive actions of the government have dramatically increased against the 40 hunger strikers, among them Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, as they demand the release of detained dissident Luis Enrique Lozada (also on hunger strike) and calling for an end to the brutality against human rights activists in the country.
The strikers, as well as numerous other dissidents who have joined them in demonstrations of solidarity, have been victims of acts of repudiation, death threats, house raids and arrests this week.
A total of 20 Ladies in White in the province of Matanzas managed to march with flowers in their hands, according to Sayli Navarro (@SayliNavarro), a young member of the group.
Navarro added that in Guantanamo 8 women marched and made it to Mass. When the religious service came to an end, the Ladies carried out their monthly meeting in the headquarters of the group in that area.
Anyer Antonio Blanco, an activist of UNPACU, reported that 34 Ladies in White participated in Mass at Palma Soriano, where Father Palma (the local priest) dedicated the sermon to the women and prayed for their protection, as well as for the hunger strikers.
Blanco said that 16 women carried out their civic march in Santiago de Cuba, and as far as he confirmed, only 1 woman was arbitrarily arrested.
During night hours of that same Sunday, the renown Ladies in White Laura Pabrada, daughter of the fallen leader of the group Laura Pollan, and Belkis Cantillo, representative of the group in Santiago de Cuba and wife of Jose Daniel Ferrer, traveled to Brussels to meet up with Berta Soler, representative of the movement, to finally receive the Sajarov Award, given to them in 2005. The Cuban dictatorship had denied Laura Pollan and other members of the group to travel outside of the country to pick up the award, but now the 3 mentioned women have been able to travel.
Soler has expressed that, in reality, these things don’t represent reforms, but instead attempts to distract international attention over the escalating level of repression against the internal opposition. However, she has been internationally denouncing the constant human rights violations in Cuba during her time outside the country, emphasizing cases such as that of Sonia Garro, Lady in White imprisoned in Havana for more than 1 year along with her husband Ramon Alejandro Munoz.
April 1, 2013Posted by on
Numerous Ladies in White defied police operations and marched throughout Cuba this Easter Sunday, March 31st, to mark the religious date and also to celebrate the 10th anniversary in which they were founded as a movement composed by the mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts and other relatives of the political prisoners rounded up and jailed during the Black Spring. Various arrests of these women were reported at the hands of the political police this Sunday as well.
Laura Labrada, daughter of the fallen leader and founder of the group, Laura Pollan, kicked off the march in the capital, Havana, carrying a photo of her mother. A total of 54 women were present in this march. They were also able to assist Easter Mass at the Santa Rita Church according to former political prisoner of conscience Angel Moya Acosta on his Twitter account (@jangelmoya). Moya added that more than 35 male dissidents accompanied the women.
Sayli Navarro, a young member of the group and daughter of former political prisoner Felix Navarro, tweeted (@SayliNavarro) that a total of 20 Ladies in White marched and assisted Mass in the province of Matanzas.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern region of the country, the political police arrested a total of 24 women between Saturday and Sunday, according to Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). Among the detainees was his 15 year old daughter, Martha Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo.
“In the case of Martha Beatriz, she was detained twice“, explained Ferrer, “she was first detained when she head out from Palmarito de Cauto alongside 3 other Ladies in White to the El Cobre Shrine during morning hours. She was forcefully returned to her home in Palmarito de Cauto and decided to once again head out to the Shrine. She was detained again“.
The majority of the other detainees were from Santiago de Cuba, Mella and Contramaestre.
Regardless, a total of 43 Ladies in White marched to Mass in the Cobre National Shrine according to the dissident leader, “despite all the repressive actions against them“.
The Ladies in White have proven to be one of the most active and successful pro-freedom movements on the island during the past 10 years. The majority of their members were not public activists when their relatives were arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to years in prison in 2003. However, these women took to the streets just days after to demand the release of their loved ones. From that moment on, the police unleashed a repressive wave against them, consisting of beatings, arrests, and in the majority of the cases, the expulsion of their work centers.
The group has been internationally awarded and acknowledged and they have also been able to practice a significant amount of pressure against the regime, up to the point where their relatives have had to be freed as well as many other political prisoners. Throughout the years, women throughout the country who are not related to any political prisoner but who support and compose the internal opposition began to march alongside the Ladies in White. They became known as “The Ladies of Support“. Eventually, the leaders of the group declared them all Ladies in White.
Laura Pollan, founder and leader of the movement, was taken to her untimely death by the Cuban regime, according to relatives and fellow members of the internal resistance. Yet, Berta Soler has successfully assumed the role of leader of the group, which has only grown and strengthened in recent times.
“The Ladies in White have become very active throughout the entire week“, highlighted Jose Daniel Ferrer, explaining that not only do these women march on Sundays, but also carry out social activities for impoverished citizens and underage children.
State violence has not been able to impede these women from gaining public space and the respect of everyday citizens throughout the country.