The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, talks about the first voting on the referendum to determine whether she will remain at the front of the organization, and denounces the repression that accompanied the consultation. The first results are very favorable, although the votes from Havana still need to be counted, those results are expected to be known on Wednesday.
Escobar. What is the latest news about the recall referendum?
Soler. It was planned to hold it this coming March 16, but considering the conditions in each province and the problems of some Ladies in White that should be dealt with, it was decided to move up the date.
Escobar. Was Matanzas the first province to vote?
Soler. Yes, they voted last Saturday. For me it has been impressive since this province has 33 Ladies in White with voting rights and all participated. Of these 32 voted “yes” and one voted “no.”
On Sunday, many of them went to the sites of each delegation to exercise their vote. Of the 22 members in Guantanamo, 18 participated and 16 voted “yes” and two annulled their ballot. In Santa Clara 12 of 13 members participated; eight voted “yes.” In Santiago de Cuba, of the 12 with a right to vote 10 chose “yes” and two chose “no.” In Bayamo, five voted “yes” and one did not show up. Today, Tuesday, the referendum was held in Holguin, with 22 “yes” and 4 “no,” plus one annulled ballot and one blank ballot.
“If the Cuban government has pasted up photos of “The Five,” we know we have the right to do that for our prisoners”
The vote of seven people from Ciego de Ávila is now pending now, as are five votes in Pinar del Rio and at least another 92 in Havana.
In all the provinces the vote has followed the same rules. There is a ballot box, the girls come, watched by observers from various organizations that have nothing to do with the Ladies in White, like UNPACU and the Republican Party for example.
Escobar. How is the information reported?
Soler. By phone. As soon as the voting ended, with observers present and the ladies who were there, the ballots were opened, the counting was done and the results publicly announced. It was then sealed and the votes were sent to Havana so there can be a count before Wednesday.
Escobar. Has there been any kind of repression?
Soler. Yes. An observer from Granma province was arrested in the morning and as of five in the afternoon had not yet released. In Havana, we pasted up pictures of Ángel Santiesteban and El Sexto (Danilo Maldonano). We did it, we are doing it and we will continue to do it, because if the Cuban government has pasted up photos of “ The Five,” we know we have the right to do that for our prisoners.
I congratulated everyone including those who said no. I wanted there to be “no” votes so people could see that is it possible to vote “no.”
They arrested seven Ladies in White in Virgen del Camino along with three human rights activists from other organizations. One security agent who is called Luisito said to Dayami Ortiz, “If you vote for Berta you’re going to spend four days locked up with prisoners.” Sobrelis Turroella, who is ill, was also taken prisoner yesterday in Alamar. They said to her, “How’s your cancer going?” “You’re really sick, what are you going to do with cancer?” Or, “If you vote yes, instead of fining you 1,500 pesos for having ‘undocumented’ sugar, we’re going to find you 3,000 pesos.”
We looked for this referendum to be clear, very transparent, but the Cuban government wants to tarnish it. So far, there are 112 “yes’s,” nine “no’s” and five ballots blank or annulled. I congratulated everyone including those who said no. I wanted there to be “no” votes so people could see that is it possible to vote “no.”
This process emerged from a disagreeable incident and, in the end, will strengthen the movement. I think that in Cuban civil society we have to learn democracy by practicing democracy.