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"Pieces of the Island"-An English Translation
Category Archives: Berta Soler
August 12, 2013Posted by on
After four weekends of unmeasurable violence against the Ladies in White and other dissidents in the cities of Cardenas and Colon in the province of Matanzas, Berta Soler – leader of the Ladies in White – traveled to Cardenas this Sunday, August 11th, to march together with the women being repressed, demanding freedom for all political prisoners. The result was the fifth weekend of violence.
11 women managed to march and assist Mass at The Parish of Cardenas. When the religious service came to an end, the Ladies left the temple in a march back home.
Leticia Ramos Herrería, representative of the women’s group for the province of Matanzas, said that a State Security official intercepted them and told them that they could not continue walking, all while the same mobs as always – organized by the regime – surrounded the women.
“We remained in silence while the mobs shouted insults at us“, said Ramos Herreria, “then, the official told me that we were going to be arrested but without being beat. It was all the contrary“.
Ramos recounts that all the women were beat and thrown inside police vehicles, among them Berta Soler and Maria Cristina Labrada, from Havana. Some were taken to the National Revolutionary Police unit while others were left out in the Port of Cardenas.
Leticia explains that although she was also beat, in this case she was not the worst off. “I want to shed light on the situation of Mercedes de la Caridad la Guardia who the agents, in addition to being beat, threw paint on her, later detained her in the PNR unit and then abandoned her 40 kilometers away from the city. She was grabbed by the arm by PNR agent Yordan (badge #33500) and agent Yudy (the same woman who has beat us during past weekends and who threatened to shoot me in the forehead recently). They punched her on her neck, face, abdomen, etc“.
Another worrying case was that of Elizabeth Pacheco Lama, a 23 year old Lady in White. At the time of her arrest she was “injected on the head with different needles. They dragged her, beat her, and even destroyed her shoes“, said Leticia.
Despite the State-sponsored violence, Leticia Ramos considers that one of the most significant factors that day was the fact that a number of everyday people showed solidarity with the persecuted women and, because of this, they also suffered violence at the hands of the police.
“I want to thank many of the people of Cardenas who protected us. The police pushed many of them against a wall, they beat them and many of them were shoved into police cars“, said the Matanzas dissident.
Meanwhile, in the city of Colon the violence was similar. Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, former political prisoner and independent unionist, used his Twitter account (@ivanlibre) to detail that he was arrested upon stepping out of his home in the morning.
“After the violent arrest, dragging me threw the street and pushing me into a police vehicle, they abandoned me out on kilometer 170 on the national highway”, wrote the renown dissident.
Ivan’s mother, Asuncion Carillo Hernandez (an elderly lady) was also arrested and they “left her out 1 kilometer after the exit of Colon, en route to San Jose”.
Ivan also tweeted about the case of Lady in White Maritza Perdomo, another woman who was harassed and arrested, kept in an unknown location for a while.
Hernandez Carrillo added that the police officials handcuffed him and twisted his arms back to the point that they cut his circulation in order to impede him from making the “L” shape with his hands (‘L’ for “Libertad”, Spanish for “Freedom”, a sign commonly used by Cuba’s opposition).
Renown dissident and former political prisoner of conscience Angel Moya Acosta was also arrested that Sunday, among other human rights activists.
9 Ladies in White were able to make it to Mass in Colon, despite that many of them were later arrested and repressed.
Dissident Lazaro Diaz Sanchez published a photo on his Twitter account (@LazaroDiazSanch) of an injury he sustained after physical attacks by the political police approximately 3 weeks ago:
“We blame the political police, the Castro brothers and their dictatorship for anything that may happen to Elizabeth Pacheco Lama, who was injected on the head. She also has chunks of hair missing because they pulled it, her legs are scratched and she took many physical blows“, expressed Leticia Ramos, “We hold the dictatorship accountable for her physical integrity as well as that of all Ladies in White in Matanzas, and all of Cuba“.
June 5, 2013Posted by on
Wearing flags with the image of the Virgin of Charity which were donated during her visit to the Ermita de la Caridad in Miami, Berta Soler led the march of the Ladies in White in Cuba’s capital, Havana, this past Sunday June 2nd. The women marched throughout the country, despite the presence of the political police.
A total of 68 women participated in Mass at the Santa Rita Church of Havana and marched down 5th Avenue afterward, according to a report by dissident leader Angel Moya Acosta. It was the first march in which Soler participated after returning to the island last week after an international trip denouncing the reality of Cuba.
More than 10 women participated in Mass and carried out marches in the province of Matanzas.
In the Eastern province of Guantanamo, 12 Ladies in White marched and made it to Mass, according to a message published by Sayli Navarro on her Twitter account (@SayliNavarro).
67 Ladies in White marched through the streets of Santiago de Cuba province and made it to Mass in the National Cobre Shrine, an emblematic temple within Cuban culture.
The website “Ya Cuba Twittea” reported that at least 3 Ladies in White from Santiago were taken down from a bus by force by the political police. The agents impeded them from arriving to Mass.
In the province of Holguin, various women were arrested.
Among the detainees were Rosa Maria Naranjo (Holguin), Danay Mendiola (Holguin), Mildred Noemi Sanchez Infante (Antilla) and Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez (Banes). The latter- Ojeda Suarez- explained to this blog that the repression against her is constant. In fact, she recounts that when she was detained, a political police agent tried to handcuff her and physically harassed her.
Eleiny Villamonte, a young member of the female group in Holguin, confirmed that despite repression 5 women “were able to march and make it to Mass in the municipality of Cacocum and in the municipality of Holguin“.
Berta Soler also told “Marti Noticias” that she has plans of expanding the Ladies in White movement, creating delegations in all the provinces of the country.
June 5, 2013Posted by on
Angel Moya Acosta, former political prisoner of conscience and husband of Berta Soler, representative of the Ladies in White, has published a video on his YouTube channel of Soler’s return to the island after she had been traveling abroad for a couple of months for the first time ever, denouncing the Cuban reality.
In the emotional re-encounter, we can see how a number of Ladies in White welcome Soler. Many of these women, as well as activists from other pro-freedom groups, were arrested by the political police so that they wouldn’t arrive to the Jose Marti Airport in Havana for the encounter. However, Soler received a very warm welcome from relatives and friends.
In the video, Berta promises to expand the membership of the Ladies in White and reaffirms her compromise with the struggle in favor of human rights and freedom in Cuba.
May 28, 2013Posted by on
After her first trip ever outside of Cuba to denounce the reality faced by those who defend freedom in the country, Berta Soler, the representative of the Ladies in White, has returned to the island this Monday, 27th of May.
Soler was received by her two children and her husband, dissident leader and former political prisoner of conscience Angel Moya Acosta, who used his Twitter account (@jangelmoya) to inform that, since early morning hours of Monday, State Security had set up various operations throughout the capital to arrest a number of Ladies in White who had plans to welcome Soler in the Jose Marti Airport.
Among the detainees were Leidis Coca and her husband, according to a message published by Moya, while other activists were surrounded in their homes by the State police, as was the case of Ladies in White Lourdes Esquivel and Sara Marta Fonseca, and dissident Andres Perez Suarez.
At around 10 PM, Moya confirmed that Berta Soler arrived and was “alongside her family and the Ladies in White”.
Meanwhile, the young Lady in White Sayli Navarro, from Matanzas, tweeted (@SayliNavarro), “Berta Soler embraces her family and the Ladies in White who waited for her. Welcome to your Cuba, the Cuba of all Cubans. Congratulations”.
It was precisely these numerous Ladies in White who stayed in Cuba who never stopped marching, Sunday after Sunday.
This past Sunday, May 26th, many of these women managed to surpass police cordons and arrive to their respective temples throughout the country to pray for the freedom of all political prisoners.
During morning hours the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and also former political prisoner, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, wrote in his Twitter (@jdanielferrer) that a total of 73 Ladies in White marched and assisted Mass in the province of Santiago de Cuba, despite obvious police operations set up in different regions.
10 Ladies in White marched and assisted Mass in the province of Guantanamo, confirmed Sayli Navarro.
Arrests were reported in the province of Holguin but have not yet been confirmed. In Holguin, each Sunday various women are impeded from arriving to church, seeing as the political police surrounds their homes since dawn hours and, in some cases, since the day before.
Navarro tweeted that a total of 21 Ladies participated in Mass in different cities of Matanzas province, according to Leticia Ramos Herreria.
Angel Moya confirmed that another 50 women marched down Havana’s 5th Avenue after participating in Mass at the Santa Rita Church. He added that “47 male human rights activists accompanied them”.
Berta Soler told the digital newspaper “Diario de Cuba” that she had returned “strengthened” to Cuba, considering that she found moral, spiritual and material support, especially on behalf of the Cuban exile.
Soler traveled to Cuba from Miami, where she had been in two occasions. (See video of her first visit to Miami here).Soler pointed out on various occasions during her trip that she did not consider the fact that she, and other dissidents, were allowed to travel outside of Cuba meant there were reforms in the country. Instead, she said it was the result of constant pressure on behalf of the opposition and that it was just an action taken to distract attention from the constant violence against activists, as well as the dire situation of numerous political prisoners.
The leader of the Ladies in White promised to take Cuba’s reality to the world, and she did. Now, she has returned to continue out on the streets, together with so many other mothers, daughters, sisters, and in sum, Cuban women and men who demand a free country.
For more information from Cuba, contact:
Ángel Moya Acosta – Cell Phone: +53-820-595 / Twitter: @jangelmoya
Berta Soler – Cell Phone: +52-906-820
José Daniel Ferrer García – Cell Phone: +53-146-740 / Twitter: @jdanielferrer
Sayli Navarro – Cell Phone: +52-731-652 / Twitter: @SayliNavarro
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 / email@example.com
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.