The government of Cuba has banned one of the country’s most high-profile anti-communist dissidents, Ladies in White coordinator Berta Soler, from traveling to Florida to attend President Donald Trump’s national address on America’s policy toward the island prison.
Soler told multiple Cuban exile outlets that the White House had invited her to attend the event. Her husband, dissident and former political prison Ángel Moya, is already in the United States and is expected to attend the event.
Speaking to the Miami-based outlet Martí Noticias, Soler said she had purchased her ticket to Florida and planned her trip unimpeded until she arrived at the gate for her flight at Havana’s José Martí airport. “You are regulated, your exits are limited,” Soler says an immigration official told her on Thursday. Soler added that she was told that the government imposed a travel ban on her due to an unspecified “fine” to her name imposed in September 2016. Yet she had been allowed to exit the country in October of that year and Moya, she says, was also fined arbitrarily, but allowed out of the country.
Soler told Martí that she expects “President Donald Trump take very drastic measures against the Cuban regime… do not do business with mobsters.” Any business with the regime, she emphasized, required “respect for human rights, an end to political violence, and freedom for political prisoners.”
Soler told Diario de Cuba, based in Spain, that this was the third time she had been banned from leaving the country this year. “The last time was on May 13, when I tried to fly out of Varadero, Matanzas [northern Cuba], but they also held me back on March 16,” she explained.
The Ladies in White are a dissident group comprising the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of political prisoners. They are a Catholic group, and their main form of protest is to attend Catholic Mass on Sunday mornings dressed in white and carrying the photographs of their wrongfully imprisoned relatives. Soler joined the group while Moya was serving a prison sentence for attempting to perform journalistic acts in the country; he was arrested during the “Black Spring” of 2003 along with 74 other journalists and anti-communist activists. Following his release, Moya has joined the group and continued to protest the government.
Moya was invited this week to meet with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss President Trump’s new Cuba policy. Moya says he met with aides for committee members Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), both Cuban-Americans, to discuss the suffering of the Cuban people. “They were very receptive, we were not surprised, but we were very pleased because they know what is happening in Cuba, they are interested in our opinion over the announcement President Donald Trump will make regarding policy towards Havana,” Moya told Diario de Cuba.
“I said before the Foreign Relations Committee that it was very important that the president express himself clearly and that he be fundamentally consistent with what he said during the presidential campaign, with a firm hand against the Cuban regime,” he added.
President Trump promised to rescind President Barack Obama’s “normalization” policies towards the Cuban regime, garnering him the first ever endorsement from the Bay of Pigs Veterans’ Association in Florida.
While Moya spoke in Washington, Soler published a letter on behalf of the Ladies in White in the United States. The letter, published by the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF) Thursday, was sent to President Trump on June 6.
“I am honored to convey to you the warmest thanks from all the members of our organization, including our four Damas recently sentenced to up to 3 years in prison, for your kind mention of our struggle,” Soler, a stern critic of President Obama, told President Trump. “These days, Mr. President, when most of the World responds with a deafening silence to the harassment, arbitrary detentions, beatings, house searches, and robberies against peaceful opponents, human rights activists and defenseless women, your words of encouragement are most welcomed.”
Soler adds, however, that “words are not enough,” reiterates that Obama’s policy “was condemned to failure,” and calls for America to “continue to be the first defender of those who lack rights and freedoms in the world.”
“The free world must isolate and punish unrepentant dictatorships and send a strong message to the tyrants that they will no longer be allowed to commit their crimes with impunity,” she concludes.
Several other dissident leaders have also expressed optimism in the new Trump policy, with one leader, Antonio Rodiles, describing it as “without a doubt a positive step for us.”
Trump’s policy is expected to ban individual “people to people” trips – which wealthy Americans have exploited to conduct illegal tourism on the island – and sanction and isolate the repressive Cuban military, which controls much of the tourist infrastructure in Cuba.
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