Cuban anti-communist dissidents have denounced communist agents – many, they say, Cuban soldiers disguised as civilians – for attacking the headquarters of the Ladies in White group, setting a fire in front of the building, and burning copies of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Ángel Moya, a dissident ally of the Ladies in White group and husband of the group’s leader, Berta Soler, told the Spain-based Diario de Cuba that the attack occurred in the morning hours of Thursday, when the group had convened for a literary tea event. A communist mob formed in front of the group’s headquarters, threatening the dissidents and shouting insults, to which the Ladies in White responded by throwing pamphlets out their window containing information on international human rights law. In addition to pro-democracy literature, the women distributed copies of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“They made a bonfire,” Moya told the newspaper, with the pro-democracy literature. “They were all soldiers dressed as civilians or people the Party took out of their jobs to come here… none were from our community,” he noted. Martí Noticias, an American outlet headquartered in Florida, published a photograph of the bonfire made with copies of the UN Declaration:
The Ladies in White is a group consisting of women whose husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers are prisoners of conscience on the island.
Soler’s group attends Catholic Mass together weekly, where they are routinely arrested en masse and released after suffering numerous abuses. During Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba last year, Soler testified that communist agents arrived at the headquarters with a bus, into which they dragged the women who were hoping to attend the pope’s mass in the Plaza of the Revolution. As Soler was their leader, “they grabbed me by the hair, by the neck, and shoved my violently into a car,” to be separated from the other women. The others arrested attested to violent beatings once trapped in the bus.
Soler has become one of Cuba’s most prominent critics of President Barack Obama. “This won’t do us any good,” Soler said in July, in response to President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with the Cuban communist regime. “We demand that violence against human rights activists cease, especially against women.” she added, “There have not yet been any statements from either government about this.”
In his announcement on December 17, 2014, the president said he was “convinced that through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.”
The U.S. State Department has confirmed that Cuba has made no advances towards improving their human rights situation since President Obama announced the policy change in 2014. In detailing human rights abuses on the island, a report released in June noted, “the government sometimes placed healthy prisoners, including political prisoners, in cells with mentally disturbed inmates as punishment. Political prisoners also reported being threatened or harassed by fellow inmates whom they believed were acting on orders of prison authorities.”
The White House has not been specific in how it has approached which changes it seeks the Cuban government to make regarding human rights. Speaking with reporters earlier this month, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said only that the United States expects Cuba will be able to enact “some degree of change” that could be considered “consistent with their revolution.”
The Cuban government has remained steadfast in insisting they will not alter their disposition towards violating the human rights of their citizens, decrying outside pressure to abide by international human rights norms. “Decision of an internal nature are not negotiable and will never be on a conversational agenda with the United State to negotiate over,” top Cuban diplomat for U.S. affairs Josefina Vidal said in August, following a series of talks between diplomats of the two nations.