Cuba Denies Passport to Head of Pro-Democracy Group Ladies in White

Cuban dissident, leader of the Human Rights organization Ladies in White, Berta Soler, speaks during a interview in Havana, on November 27, 2016, two days after the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

Berta Soler, the head of Cuba’s pro-democracy Ladies in White group, denounced the communist regime there on Tuesday for refusing to renew her passport, telling her that she was being “regulated” generally and could not move freely.

Soler suggested that government officers did not provide any explanation for why she had been deemed a “regulated” person, though her activism has long made her a target of arbitrary police action.

Soler told the U.S.-based Martí media network that she had gone to renew her passport – required of all Cubans every two years – on Monday to buy a flight to Miami, where she had scheduled a medical appointed. “I was informed that I could not activate my passport because I was ‘regulated,'” she said.

According to the site Cubanet, “regulation” is a term used for “a punitive measure applied by State Security through the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), not imposed through the courts or associated with any crimes, violations, or formal accusations.” The police have the authority to “regulate” anyone it deems problematic without having to undergo seemingly any due process. This expansive power is often used against pro-democracy and anti-communist voices who do not in any way violate the law, toeing the line of even the arbitrary law banning “disrespect,” but the government deems it necessary to silence them.

Soler is the head of a movement comprised of the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of political prisoners, founded by late activist Laura Pollán. The Ladies in White traditionally partake in only one act of protest: attending Catholic Mass on Sundays in silence while wearing white and carrying the images of their imprisoned loved ones. Many of the women involved in the movement had no political past prior to the arrests of their loved ones and became activists in light of the injustices that befell their family.

The Cuban regime routinely orchestrates violent mass arrests against the Ladies in White and, with little complaint from the Vatican, barred most of the women from attending Mass. Soler has been arrested, often violently, almost every Sunday for the past three years. In one such episode, bystanders caught Cuban police attacking Soler on video, twisting her shoulder and causing bleeding to her eye. Police attacked Soler for standing outside of her home in silence holding a sign reading “Revolution is Repression” and detained her for several hours.

Other Ladies in White suffer similar repression or abuse. One common form of abuse is the acto de repudio, or “act of repudiation,” in which the government organizes a mob to harass, insult, and dirty the area around the homes of dissidents. Ladies in White under police detention often face a complete lack of health care, as well. This week, the daughter of Lady in White Aimara Nieto denounced the regime for refusing to allow her to see a dentist despite an increasingly acute toothache that suggests the need for medical assistance.

Cuba has come under sustained pressure from international human rights groups to cease taking dissidents in as political prisoners. While it continues to do so – notably in the case of Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) leader Eduardo Cardet, arrested for refusing to mourn Fidel Castro – it has shifted tactics and more often used short-term detention to abuse and torture dissidents. For Soler, this meant over ten arrests, one almost every Sunday, in the summer months of 2018.

Soler’s struggle has attracted support from the Trump administration, which has prioritized distancing itself and the free world from the Castro regime. In a speech announcing new sanctions on Havana last week, National Security Advisor John Bolton lauded the group for “courageously tak[ing] to the streets to defend their families and all of Cuba.” Soler was personally invited to attend President Donald Trump’s speech announcing the end of Obama-era concession policies toward Cuba last year, but the regime banned her from traveling to Florida for the occasion. Soler has also been a fixture in what has become a traditional July 4 celebration at the American embassy in Havana.


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