Over thirty members of the Ladies in White, a peaceful Catholic
dissident group in Cuba, were violently arrested over the weekend for
attempting to attend Sunday Mass, including leader Berta Soler.
The Cuban government recently banned Soler from leaving the country
after the White House invited her to attend President Donald Trump’s
speech announcing the repeal of Obama-era concessions to the communist
Castro regime. She was arrested eight times during President Obama’s
short visit to the island in March 2016.
This weekend, the group had planned to attend the weekly Mass at their
local Havana church but, according to a Diario de Cuba note denouncing
the arrests, most were arrested on their way out of their homes. In
Soler’s case, according to Lady in White Daisy Artiles, five uniformed
Cuban police officers apprehended her while leaving the house “holding a
sign demanding freedom for political prisoners.”
“They took her sign away violently and dragged her into a car,” Artiles
said. “Then a mob began to yell obscenities at us, calling us
‘counterrevolutionaries,’ ‘maggots,’ and shouting ‘this street belongs
to Fidel.’” “Maggot” is a slur communists use for Cuban exiles.
This mob activity against peaceful pro-democracy dissidents is
state-mandated and so common that it has an official name in Cuba: actos
de repudio, or “acts of rejection.” Actos de repudio may include
beatings, burnings of international human rights documents, stoning, and
tarring of dissidents, among other violent acts.
Diario de Cuba notes that reports from the island suggest that at least
fifteen Ladies in White in Havana did not get as far as Soler, being
arrested in their homes in Havana. Another fourteen women were arrested
throughout the country in Guantánamo, Bayamo, and eastern Santiago de Cuba.
The arrests follow the publication of a petition on behalf of the Ladies
in White group requesting that Pope Francis, who has a working
relationship with dictator Raúl Castro and has visited the island, to
intervene on their behalf to allow them to attend Mass. They note that
they have never interrupted a Mass nor has any Catholic clergymen
complained that their presence was disruptive to a service, but that
they have for several weeks been unable to attend Mass at the Santa Rita
church they call their spiritual home in Havana.
The Ladies in White are a group of mothers, daughters, sisters, and
wives of political prisoners. The group was founded following the “Black
Spring” of 2003, when the Castro regime arrested dozens of journalists
and anti-communist activists to prevent them spreading pro-freedom
sentiments. Some of these political prisoners have been freed and now
form part of the greater Ladies in White community.
The Ladies in White protest the government in the same way every Sunday,
by dressing in white and silently carrying gladiolas and a photo of
their imprisoned loved ones from their homes to Santa Rita church, where
they attend Mass. The group has only missed two Sundays since 2003
for the government’s mandatory mourning period for late dictator Fidel
The Cuban government regularly uses violence and actos de repudio to
attempt to silence the group. Government violence against the Ladies in
White has grown worse since President Obama announced concessions to
the Castro regime in late 2014, leading to protests against Obama
himself. In one incident in 2015, ninety Ladies in White and supporters
were arrested wearing Obama masks protesting his policies towards Cuba.
The Ladies in White’s opposition to President Obama made his visit to
Cuba particularly taxing for them. Berta Soler, their leader, was
arrested eight times during his visit.
Raúl Castro’s dictatorship has become increasingly repressive against
religious Cubans since the policies the Ladies in White protested took
effect. Among them is the unaffiliated dissident Daniel Llorente, who
was arrested on May 1–International Workers’ Day–for interrupting the
government’s Marxist rally by waving an American flag. Llorente was
beaten publicly and whisked away to a mental institution for, according
to his son, “believing in God.”
This week, Llorente sent a letter to the Trump administration through
his son requesting political asylum in “the world’s greatest defender of
human rights, hope, liberty, justice, brotherhood, and the pursuit of
happiness, the United States.” Llorente has begun a hunger strike
demanding his release, noting that there is no medical evidence that he
is suffering from mental illness and instead is being kept in a mental
hospital to prevent international human rights organizations from being
able to formally brand him a prisoner of conscience.
The hospital in question, known by Cubans as “Mazorra,” is known for
using “electroshock therapy” on patients that has been widely rejected
by international mental health experts.
Source: Violent Weekend in Cuba: 30 Ladies in White Arrested Again
Trying to Attend Mass –