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Cuba: Late dissident’s daughter breaks with head of ‘Ladies’

March 19, 2015

HAVANA (AP) — The daughter of a founding member of Cuba’s Ladies in White publicly split with their current leader Thursday in the latest sign of division within the dissident group, which a decade ago was awarded the European Union’s top human rights prize.

Laura Maria Labrada, whose mother, Laura Pollan, was the Ladies’ leader and public face before her death in 2011, criticized Berta Soler’s management and the expulsion of group members.

“I have decided going forward to withdraw authorization for Berta Soler to use my mother’s name or associate it with behavior that goes against the principles she always defended,” Labrada said at a news conference in her mother and stepfather’s home.

She added that Soler is no longer welcome at the house, which traditionally has been the Ladies’ meeting place and headquarters.

Calls to Soler’s cellphone rang unanswered Thursday. Her husband and fellow dissident, Angel Moya, said she was in Miami.

The split came weeks after video surfaced online showing group members allied to Soler shouting down another longtime member, Alejandrina Garcia, during a December gathering at the home.

“Down with traitors!” ″She should leave!” and “We don’t want to hear her!” they yelled at Garcia, who had also disagreed with Soler’s leadership.

The scene resembled the “acts of repudiation” in which pro-government counter-protesters sometimes accost Cuba’s dissidents, yelling revolutionary slogans and personal epithets.

“As long as I am alive I will never allow another situation like the one that happened here,” said Hector Maseda, Pollan’s widower.

Some Ladies in White living overseas had called for Soler’s resignation in response to the incident. Soler announced she would submit her leadership to a referendum among members still on the island, a vote which she survived last week.

Labrada alleged that since Soler took over in 2011, members have been mistreated and unfairly expelled. Like Garcia, who was at the news conference, she also criticized the inclusion of men in their protests.

Labrada said she welcomes ongoing U.S.-Cuba negotiations on restoring diplomatic relations and reopening embassies in each other’s countries, in contrast to Soler’s harsh criticism of President Barack Obama after the December announcement.

Labrada said she has the support of 100 Ladies in White who are calling for an election, rather than a referendum, and the reincorporation of ousted members.

She also said she intends to start a nonprofit foundation named after her mother to help needy children, abused women and the elderly.

Wives and mothers of 75 activists jailed in a 2003 crackdown on dissent formed the Ladies in White over a decade ago to press for their loved ones’ release.

They became known for weekly marches along Havana’s leafy 5th Avenue on Sundays after Mass, wearing white and carrying gladiolas.

The last of the 75 prisoners were released in recent years, and nearly all the original Ladies have left the group.

With mostly new membership, they now protest to demand freedom for others they consider political prisoners and for democratic reform.

The government accuses dissidents of being traitors and “mercenaries” who accept money from abroad to undermine the revolution and Cuba’s Communist system.

In 2005 the European Union awarded its Sakharov human rights prize to the group.


Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

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