Wilfredo Cancio Isla (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — The images are disconcerting. In the same place where pro-government hordes commonly harass Cuba’s Ladies in White, in front of the movement’s headquarters in Centro Habana, we see these women yelling slogans that recall the reprisals perpetrated during the dark days of the Mariel exodus.
“Death to the traitors!” “Out with them!” “We don’t want to listen to them!” a group of approximately 30 activists, wearing the familiar white dresses, yell out in unison. These offensive statements are aimed at Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva, who stands in a corner of her living room, fruitlessly trying to make herself heard over the yelling.
“It was a kind of flash reprisal. I felt as though I was being harassed by State Security agents,” Garcia de la Riva said during her interview with Cafe Fuerte. “I have no words to describe what I experienced that day.”
Garcia de la Riva is one of the founders of the Ladies in White movement and the wife of former political prisoner Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the Case of the 75 (when the Cuban government convicted 75 dissidents and independent journalists to long prison terms in 2003). The couple lives in the rural town of El Roque, in the municipality of Perico, Matanzas.
Commotion and Violence
The incident took place last December 16. It is documented in a three-minute video uploaded to YouTube at the close of January. Most of the protesters crowded outside the house and managed to break in to attack Garcia de la Riva, lunging towards her.
Laura Labrada Pollan, the daughter of the late leader of the movement, Laura Pollan, attempts to prevent the attack along with other activists.
Garcia de la Riva said that the harassment she suffered was prompted by her disagreement with the current leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, with respect to the way she is leading the organization.
“Berta is destroying the movement with an attitude of refusing to listen to or tolerate any criticisms. She has become a dictator,” she stated during a phone conversation.
Accused of Being a Mule
According to Garcia de la Riva, Soler has been expelling members of the organization and calling them traitors for some time now.
“I asked to speak to her to discuss what was going on, because we are sisters in the struggle and it was my duty to tell her that I thought this was wrong,” she added.
According to her testimony, Soler questioned her diminished participation in the movement’s rallies in Matanzas and her recent visit to the United States for family-related reasons, accusing her of acting as a mule.
The activist said that Soler instructed the Ladies in White representative in Matanzas to forbid her from joining the group’s rallies until such time as she met with her in Havana.
“I went to Havana to ask her to explain this and she told me I could not continue to be part of the movement. Since I took part in the protest in front of the Santa Rita Church in Havana nonetheless, she told me she was going to take that as a provocation.”
The incident in the home of Laura Pollan took place during a literary soirée that Garcia attended despite Soler’s warnings. Soler ended up throwing Garcia de la Riva out.
“As If They Knew Me…”
“Not one of the women who yelled at me and tried to attack me that day knew me. I decided to stay because that is the home of the movement that we created to defend the freedom of our political prisoners,” the activist commented.
Garcia de la Riva says she has decided to talk because she wants people to know the truth.
“She [Soler] coerces the women in the organization. They fear her because she throws them out, takes away their telephone lines and food, and calls the Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami so that they will withdraw their aid. What’s happening is truly regrettable.”
Contacted by Café Fuerte last Thursday to comment on the accusations leveled against her, Soler downplayed the importance of the incident and said that she respects Garcia de la Riva’s right to express herself.
“Alejandrina and I fight for the same cause. I respect her opinions, but the most important thing is to defend the freedom of the Cuban people. That is why I’ve stayed in Cuba,” Soler stated during a phone conversation in Havana.
Continuing the Struggle
Garcia de la Riva states she will not abandon the movement she helped create next to the wives, mothers and daughters of Cuba’s prisoners of conscience in 2003.
“I won’t give up the struggle, because there are still political prisoners in Cuban jails,” she said. “I suffer over everything that continues to take place in Cuban society, because my husband is still imprisoned in this country, granted only limited parole.”
Gonzalez Marrero was one of the 12 convicted as part of the Case of the 75 who decided not to leave the country upon his release in 2011, brought about by arrangements with the Catholic Church and the Spanish government.
“There is no way any of this would be happening if Laura Pollan were alive today,” the activist said.