Cuba's Ladies in White leader Berta Soler praises exile support
By Melissa Sanchez
The leader of Cuba's Ladies in White thanked Miami's exile community on Saturday for its continued support for dissidents on the island and asked for more moral, spiritual and material help for those who seek to end the Castro regime.
Berta Soler also blamed the Cuban government for the lack of economic and educational opportunities for Afro-Cubans and affirmed her support for the U.S. economic embargo against the island.
Soler answered questions for more than half an hour during a press conference at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies/Casa Bacardi at the University of Miami Saturday morning.
She said she wasn't surprised by the first question about whether Cuban dissidents who favored an end to the embargo were actually secretly planted by the Castro government. The question was an indirect reference to the Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who visited Miami earlier this month and has been criticized by some exiles for her call to end the economic blockade.
"I appreciate that comment, and I was waiting for it. I come from a country where there is no liberty, where you can't speak freely as you just did," Soler said. "Cuba isn't in the shape it's in because of the U.S. government; it's the fault of the Castro government."
She added: "Liberty can't be bought or sold. Nobody sent us to do this, neither from the inside or the outside."
The Ladies in White was founded by the wives, daughters and other female relatives of a group of 75 peaceful dissidents who were sentenced to long prison terms during a crackdown in 2003 known as Cuba's Black Spring of 2003. The group's marches after Sunday masses at a Havana church became the only public protest regularly tolerated by the communist government and are now active in virtually every major city on the island.
Soler, who was allowed to leave the island under a change in Cuba's travel rules, was in Brussels earlier this week to accept the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She said she is not afraid of reprisals upon her return home.
"Love for my family, for life and for my country is stronger than prison bars," she said.
Soler, who is black, rejected the notion that racism is not a problem on the island. She asked why white Cubans have the best jobs in government and other institutions.
"If you look at Cuba's universities, whites are everywhere," she said. "And in the jails, most of the prisoners are black because they don't have opportunities."
Asked whether the U.S. Interests Sections in Havana provides sufficient aid, Soler said she was grateful for the Internet access granted there to the Ladies in White. However, she revealed that the connection is much too slow.
"I said that to the State Department and the White House," she explained. "The Internet connection is slow, and I think they need to change the server, because sometimes we have to sit there for an hour, an hour and a half, and we can't connect."
Joined by a group of Ladies in White who live in Miami, Soler started her day by dropping off flowers at the Cuban Memorial, which remains under construction at Tamiami Park. She also spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the exile group Mothers and Women Against Repression in Cuba and planned to participate in a vigil on Saturday evening in honor of the deceased Ladies in White founder Laura Pollán Toledo.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who attended the luncheon, said that democracy will arrive in Cuba because of the work of groups like the Ladies in White.
"It's so easy to speak against the Castro brothers from here," she said. "But what makes the Ladies in White truly valiant is that they're doing that in Cuba, despite attacks and the threat of prison sentences for them or their relatives [...]. Nobody can stop the Ladies in White."
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