Leaders of Cuba’s dissident Ladies in White group rejected Havana’s
claims they are mercenaries and said Monday that there is nothing wrong with
receiving help from abroad because the Cuban government “is trying to asphyxiate
Berta Soler and Belkis Cantillo also called for forgiveness of low-level
repressors in a post-Castro era but punishment for those “with blood on their
hands” during an appearance at the Freedom Tower, symbolic heart of Miami’s
exile community, on Cuba’s traditional Independence Day.
Soler, Cantillo and Laura Labrada got louder and longer applause than even
Miami’s own Gloria Estefan, who wore a white dress and presented the women with
a large photo of the massive march she helped organize in Miami in 2010 to
support their group.
The audience of several hundred at the Freedom Tower broke repeatedly into
applause and shouts of “Viva Cuba” as the three women, also dressed in white,
laid out their thoughts on the communist-run island of 11 million people.
Cantillo said that as a Christian she could forgive the young State Security
agent who punched and shoved her to break up a protest last month by several
members of the Ladies in White in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.
Soler said, however, that in a democratic Cuba “those with blood on their hands
must go on trial.” She gave no details, but Cubans often point to the boats that
rammed and sank the tugboat 13 de Marzo in 1994 to keep it from escaping the
island. More than 30 people aboard the tugboat drowned.
Soler and Labrada also repeated their pleas for material and moral assistance
for the Ladies in White and other dissidents, rejecting Cuban government
allegations that Washington finances their activities to undermine the communist
“We are not paid. We are not mercenaries,” said Labrada. “And we are grateful
for all of those who want to help us.”
Soler added that the dissidents need “oxygen” because the Cuban government
“wants to asphyxiate us,” often by denying jobs, educational benefits and other
government services to opposition activists and relatives.
Journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, who moderated the presentation, noted in a
question that Havana received huge subsidies from the Soviet Union and Venezuela
and supported guerrillas in almost every Latin American country during the 1960s
The public presentation was hosted by the Foundation for Human rights in Cuba
and Miami Dade College to coincide with May 20, celebrated as Cuba’s
Independence Day until Fidel Castro seized power. The government now celebrates
independence on Oct. 10, the start of the revolt against Spain in 1868.
“We never would have imagined being here to celebrate this day,” said Soler, one
of the dozen dissidents allowed to travel abroad for the first time in years
after the government eased its travel restrictions in January.
Dissident Guillermo Farinas _ who like the Ladies in White won the European
Parliament’s Sakharov prize for Freedom of Conscience, his coming in 2010, the
women’s in 2005 _ took part in a news conference with the women before the
Farinas acknowledged with a sheepish smile that when he arrived in Miami he was
a bit worried about his reception by some of the “more radical” Miami Cubans
because of the Cuban government’s 50 years of propaganda against exiles.
But he said he received “a lot of affection” when he turned up over the weekend
at Cuba Nostalgia, the annual celebration of all things Cuba and when he stopped
for a bite to eat at Versailles, the Calle Ocho restaurant.
MDC President Eduardo J. Padron said the Ladies in White had shown
“extraordinary valor” in their activism against the government and presented the
women with the college’s Presidential Medal, engraved “Guardians of Freedom.”
Jorge Mas Santos, head of the Cuban American National Foundation, said the
dissidents live under terrible threats but “are the hope for a country where
human rights are respected and the dreams of a young Cuban can be realized.” The
Ladies in White and Farinas were scheduled to be guests of honor Monday night at
the Foundation’s annual 20 de Mayo Celebration Dinner at the JW Marriott Marquis
in downtown Miami.
(c)2013 The Miami Herald
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