Ladies in White leader Berta Soler obtained more than half the votes in a referendum to remain at the helm of the feminine opposition movement in Cuba.
A total of 108 members of the Ladies in White organization in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Holguin, Santa Clara and Matanzas voted to keep Soler in her current position while nine members voted against. Six other ballots were left blank or were made null, Soler told el Nuevo Herald.
“A secret vote is very important because it allows people to reflect what they want. The ballots which were left blank or were null — there weren’t many of these but they exist — are a form of democracy,” said Soler, who added that she insisted on the referendum although the “active Ladies in White, who participate in marches after mass every Sunday” were not in favor of the referendum.
Soler called for the referendum Feb. 22 in response to criticism after the release of a video showing a group of Ladies in White members booing fellow member Alejandra Garcia de la Riva, whom they dubbed a “traitor.”
A group of 16 founders of the Ladies in White movement who live in the U.S. signed a petition asking Soler to resign and for elections to be held. They called the action in the video “an abominable act of repudiation.”
Later, another petition was signed by 100 women, among them former members who quit or were sanctioned and formed other opposition groups, such as the Citizens for Democracy movement. The petion was also signed by some active members of Ladies in White, including Laura Maria Labrada Pollan, daughter of the organization’s founder, Laura Pollan.
The letter demanded the reintegration of activists who were separated from the organization in an “unjust” or “arbitrary” manner, elections, the creation of a Direction Council and for the group to actively involve women living in exile in decision-making.
However, Soler criticized the inclusion of 16 signatures by women who never marched with the Ladies in White in the document. She also questioned the opinions of former members and asked the women living in exile to “return here to vote, incorporate yourselves into the movement and march every Sunday dressed in white.”
The Ladies in White movement was originally founded by the wives and relatives of political prisoners who were incarcerated in the Spring 2003. Many of its members were exiled when their husbands or relatives were liberated and forced to leave the country. The Ladies in White received the European Parliament’s Sakharov award in 2005.
The referendum will conclude Wednesday with the final voting taking place in the capital, Ciego de Avila and Pinar del Rio. Another 106 women are expected to participate in a process Soler said is characterized by its “transparency.”