Soler recounted the beatings which she and the other Ladies in White have received for speaking out, and that the tactics of repression now included being stuck with needles to induce fear that one could be susceptible to infection and subsequently denied medical care, if the regime so chooses.
International human rights conclaves such as this can serve, to some extent, as an extra layer of protection for those courageous enough to speak out, though it is a dangerous trade off. Crossing the threshold from obscure voice against a violent oppressor to internationally-recognized dissident is the most perilous time for many of those who are here to share the stage with Soler.
The Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based human rights organization that puts on the conference, just published a harrowing tale of its multi-year effort to extract internationally-renowned free speech advocate Ali Abdulemam from Bahrain.
Though Abdulemam was given political asylum in the UK, his wife and children remain in Bahrain, still in danger until they can hopefully join him in London. To those like Soler, who will return to their home country, the vigilance of these international human rights defenders will be the only protection that they may have from a regime that has become so indifferent to criticism it allegedly killed well-known dissident Oswaldo Paya recently by running his car off the road. The speculation is that the senescence of the Castro brothers and their potential loss of Venezuela’s petroleum lifeline following the death of Hugo Chávez has spurred an increase in repression of the island’s dissident voices.
Asked whether she would consider seeking asylum outside of Cuba, Soler said defiantly, “I will always return to Cuba, no matter what they do to me.” Perhaps sharing the stage with Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat and North Korean democracy activist Park Sang Hak, both of whom will share the Václav Havel Prize with the Ladies in White, will bring enough pressure against the regime to stop, or at least diminish, the racially-tinged repression that Soler and others have long struggled against in Cuba.
Jon B. Perdue is the author of The War of All the People: The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism and directs the Latin America programs at the Fund for American Studies in Washington, D.C.