Head of Cuba’s Ladies in White to Face Recall Vote

EspañolCuban civil-society group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) is to hold leadership elections in mid-March, current leader Berta Soler signaled on Sunday, February 22, during the group’s regular Sunday protest in Havana.

Soler’s declaration comes amid widening divisions within the group, composed of the spouses of jailed opposition activists. The latest convocation at organization headquarters in the Cuban capital was witness to Ladies in White members shouting “traitor” at fellow activist Alejandrina García de la Riva.

“I’m not fixed to any position,” Soler said on Sunday. “All the ladies in white active in the country will vote over whether I should continue at the front of the movement or not.”

García de la Riva and Soler have fallen out over disagreements about the direction of the group. Differences arose during a discussion which took place in the house of the late founder of the group, Laura Pollán, according to Miami-based Radio Martí.

After the video of the dramatic dispute went viral last Thursday, Soler described the treatment of García de la Riva as “regrettable” and “perhaps not the most correct.”

García de la Riva later told the news source that her split with Soler was based upon “the way in which the movement is being managed, and that’s what perhaps led her to act in this way.”

García de la Riva’s objections were bolstered by further critiques from former members of the group, who slammed Soler “for treating acts of dissent in the same way as communists, Nazis, and fascists.”

The referendum on Soler’s leadership will take place in three weeks’ time, with the island’s full roster of 260 ladies in white eligible to vote.

“Berta Soler will submit to a recall vote.”

Time for Change?

Soler broke the news through a press conference held at midday on Sunday before some 50 people. She signaled that the vote will be held on March 16, but offered no further details on the process.

The civil society leader also addressed the written critique of 16 former members of the group from Miami, calling on them “to return to Cuba to fight.” The letter had defended García de la Riva and insisted that Soler should step aside.

After a concluding an act of remembrance for Cuban dissidents who have lost their lives, the demonstration was interrupted by a rival protest group which confronted Ladies in White members, forcing many of them to board a bus. Their location is still unknown.

“The Movement’s Essence Has Been Lost”

Yanelis Serrán, a Havana-based member of the group, told the PanAm Post that in her view the movement had gone wrong under Soler’s leadership, although she wasn’t witness to the dramatic confrontation between Soler and García de la Riva.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t know [founder] Laura Pollán, but from what they’ve told me about her, the current situation couldn’t be more different. The Ladies in White isn’t what it once was: it’s changed a lot. The essence of Ladies in White has been lost. The legacy left by Laura Pollán has been lost,” Serrán said.

“I’m not very satisfied with Berta Soler. We’ve changed a lot recently. There’s been a lot of conflict. Personally, I’m disappointed with the movement,” she added.

The civil-society activist also argued that the March elections should be held via a secret ballot, noting that a similar hope had been expressed by Laura Pollán’s daughter.

“I hope that there’s democracy, that they follow procedure and that everyone can vote in secret. Whoever comes out elected, I’ll support her. I want the movement to improve and to recover its course, its essence, again,” Serrán concluded.

Act of Commemoration

On Sunday’s march, as well as calling for the release of political prisoners, the Ladies in White also remembered five deceased opposition activists.

“We dedicate today’s march to Orlanzo Zapata Tamayo, who died five years ago tomorrow after a hunger strike, as well as the four young pilots of Brothers to the Rescue, killed on the orders of Fidel and Raúl Castro”, Soler told local newspaper Diario de Cuba.

Translated by Laurie Blair. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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