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.