Biden receives Ladies in White leader in White House

Bertha Soler meets with Vice President Joe Biden Friday at the White House to discuss the human righs situation in Cuba.
Bertha Soler meets with Vice President Joe Biden Friday at the White House to discuss the human righs situation in Cuba.
Office of the Vice President

The leader of Cuba’s dissident Ladies in White, Berta Soler, met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in the White House Friday in an Obama administration recognition of the dissident movement on the island.

“It was surprising, and very important, that the White house has opened its doors to Cuban dissidents to listen to the message we bring — and the (requests for) support we seek from all of them for the liberation of my country,” Soler said.

She also asked Biden to ensure that when dealing with Havana, the U.S. government maintain its insistence on respect for human rights and protection for democracy activists on the island, Soler told El Nuevo Herald.

Washington also should be more skeptical of Raúl Castro’s economic reforms, she added, saying that few changes in fact have been put in place and that Havana is trying to project a positive image so it can receive international loans.

Soler said her message was ‘well received” by Biden during their 20-minute meeting. She was accompanied by Jorge Mas Santos, president of the Cuban American National Foundation.

“This is a great opportunity, a historic opportunity, a recognition of the courage not only of Berta and the Ladies in White but of all the men and women who confront the regime each day,” Mas Santos told Radio/TV Martí after the meeting.

The women’s group, winner of the European Parliament Sakharov prize for Freedom of Conscience in 2005, was founded by the wives, daughters and mothers of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown. The last of the prisoners were freed in 2011, but the women have continued their marches after Mass Sundays to demand human rights and democracy.

Soler was received after Biden by Ricardo Zuniga, who first met her when he was a human rights officer at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana in the early 2000s. He later headed the Cuba desk at the State Department and now heads the Latin America desk at the White House’s National Security Council.

The 49-year-old medical lab technician said that during both meetings she put special emphasis on the case of Sonia Garro, a Ladies in White member who has been jailed for more than a year. Prosecutors preparing for her trial next week have asked for a 10-year sentence for the attempted murder of one of the policemen who raided her home, she added.

Soler was scheduled to fly to Miami Friday night but then return to Washington on Sunday to continue her rounds of meetings and public appearances.

She met Thursday with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who later said she shared Soler’s concerns “with the continued repression of the peaceful activities carried out by the Ladies in White and other independent groups of civil society.”

Next week Soler will appear before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, a part of the Organization of American States, in Washington and with Sen. Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey.

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