Cuba dissident leader expects to survive referendum vote

havana-live-berta-solerHAVANA,12 Mar. (AP) — The head of the Cuban dissident group the Ladies in White was poised to survive a referendum on her leadership Wednesday following an internal dispute that sparked demands for her resignation.

With more than half of the ballots counted, Berta Soler said she had won support from 108 members, enough to keep her position. The ballots counted came from seven cities outside of the capital, Soler said. Votes still were pending from 103 members in Havana, Pinar del Rio and Ciego de Avila, but nearly all would have to vote against Soler to oust her.
Of the ballots already tallied, nine were against Soler and five were counted as blank or abstaining. “This is very important for me,” Soler said of Wednesday’s vote.

“There are many people asking for my resignation, and this is a democratic way of ratifying my position and deciding whether I can continue as the representative of the Ladies in White.”
The Ladies in White formed following a 2003 crackdown on Cuban dissenters, with the wives and mothers of 75 jailed activists staging weekly marches along a Havana boulevard clad in white and carrying gladiolas to press for their loved ones’ release.

While the original activists later were freed and most of the founders have left the group, the Ladies have picked up new members who continue to protest to demand democratic reform and freedom for other inmates they consider political prisoners. Soler came under question after a video surfaced of Ladies at a December meeting shouting down Alejandrina Garcia, a prominent member who had criticized her leadership.

“Down with traitors!” ”She should leave!” and “We don’t want to hear her!” they yelled. The scene resembled the so-called acts of repudiation in which crowds of pro-government counter-protesters gather to hurl epithets at the Ladies in White during their marches. Members living overseas urged Soler to step down.
Last month, she agreed to allow members living on the island to decide the matter in a referendum. Garcia said Wednesday she still considers herself a member of the Ladies, but has not participated in any of its actions since the confrontation.

She accused Soler of expelling members without justification and violating group rules. “I don’t agree with what Berta is doing. The direction of the movement has gotten lost,” Garcia said.
“It has become something that’s much more about politics than human rights.” Cuba officially considers dissidents to be traitors bent on undermining the communist-run government at the behest of foreign interests.

The group was honored by the European Union in 2005, receiving its highest human rights prize, the Sakharov. Laura Pollan, the group’s founder and longtime leader, died in 2011.