By Sandy Marks | June 16, 2016
“Luck… you’ve got an unladylike way of running out…”
“Luck Be A Lady Tonight” Frank Loesser, from Guys & Dolls
The “Ladies in White” they call themselves. The term, damas (ladies) is an anachronism, a term that went out of use in Cuba after its revolution in 1959, a carryover from Cuba’s Spanish colonial heritage meaning a woman of the nobility – Cuba was, along with Puerto Rico, Spain’s last colony in the New World, where the rigid Spanish class system held on the longest, and where, after independence from Spain, a strictly stratified social system held sway, a heritage which it has since shed.
The damas claim to model themselves on the Chilean Association of the Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared and Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, formed in 1970 in response to the brutal murders and disappearances of their children at the hands of the military dictatorships in those countries.
Yet, there are stark differences.
While the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo marched for years in relative obscurity and were ignored by the powerful U.S. Embassy, which supported those dictatorships and received little international media attention for many years, these “ladies” are paid by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, directly and indirectly (see, Lorraine Bayard de Volo, “Heroines With Friends in High Places: Cuba’s Damas de Blanco, NACLA, November 12, 2011) and, while the Argentine and Chilean demanded justice for loved ones tortured before they were murdered and their children given over for adoption and their identities hidden, all of the prisoners these ladies claim to be supporting have long since been released although the damas’ website still says they are “fighting for the liberation of their loved ones.” Although some were exiled to Spain, one must question the devotion of these damas to their spouses, which they claim as their inspiration, when after their husbands were released, they did not follow them but chose to remain in Cuba.
Hebe de Bonafini, one of the founders of the Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, rejected any comparison in an interview posted on Rebellion.com: “Our white kerchief symbolizes life, while these women … represent death,” defending the “terrorism of the United States,” performed by persons such as Luis Posadas Carriles, who lives in Miami, and who has admitted masterminding the blowing up of an Air Cubana civilian airplane and hotels in Cuba. While thousands of Argentines and Chileans suffered painful deaths and torture at the hands of their military dictatorships, these ladies have enjoyed the ample generosity of the U.S. government and media and even the European Parliament.
While the group’s leader, Berta Soler, claims that the damas are not political, she has expressed her own political views explicitly, declaring that dictator Fulgencio Batista was a golden jewel, as was Cuba under Batista. For the record, the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, during his election contest with Richard Nixon, had this to say of Batista’s Cuba prior to 1959:
In 1953 the average Cuban family had an income of 6 pesos a week. Fifteen to twenty percent of the labor force was chronically unemployed. Only a third of the homes on the island even had running water, and in the years, which preceded the Castro revolution this abysmal standard of living was driven lower as population expansion out-distanced economic growth. Only 90 miles away stood the United States – their good neighbor – the richest Nation on earth – its radios and newspapers and movies spreading the story of America’s material wealth and surplus crops. But instead of holding out a helping hand of friendship to the desperate people of Cuba, nearly all our aid was in the form of weapons assistance – assistance which merely strengthened the Batista dictatorship – assistance which completely failed to advance the economic welfare of the Cuban people.
In a manner certain to antagonize the Cuban people, we use the influence of our Government to advance the interests of and increase the profits of the private American companies, which dominated the island’s economy. At the beginning of 1959 U.S. companies owned about 90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions – 80 percent of the utilities – and practically all the oil industry – and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports. […]
Perhaps the most disastrous of our failures was the decision to give stature and support to one of the most bloody and repressive dictatorships in the long history of Latin American repression. Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years – a greater portion of the Cuban population than the proportion of Americans who died in both World Wars. (Speech at a dinner hosted by the Democratic Party of Cincinnati, Ohio, October 6, 1960)
That was Soler’s golden jewel, pre-revolutionary Cuba under Batista…
Soler took over the damas amid accusations by Soler of self-dealing by the damas’ previous leader, Laura Pollan, with Soler claiming $20,000 missing.
These ladies are paid to walk two to three times a week in the surroundings of Santa Rita Church in the western Havana suburb of Miramar. Originally receiving $30 a march from the U.S. government (diplomatic funding by the U.S. State Department and “friendly” (to the U.S.) embassies was revealed in U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2011.)
They have made a career of trying to provoke a heavy-handed response from Cuban police in order to demonstrate alleged brutality. Although some scuffles with police and counter-demonstrators have taken place over the years, none of the damas has ever been seriously hurt during a demonstration (less than can be said of demonstrators against the new labor law in Paris, where at least one protestor has been in a coma after being hit by a tear-gas container).
The decision of the Obama administration to begin normalization and diplomatic ties with Cuba, and attendant fear of their dollar-dole drying up, has apparently forced the damas to try other tactics, such as blocking access to a medical clinic, and then claiming a doctor had struck them. Perhaps the assessment of Al Jazeera that the damas are in danger of becoming irrelevant, and more importantly, losing their funding, is not so far from the mark. (“Cuban activists feel abandoned amid U.S. rapprochement.” (Al Jazeera, July 20, 2015)
When President Obama visited Cuba this March and spoke at the Gran Teatro, the damas saw it as a golden opportunity and managed to get themselves in the U.S. news again, providing the requisite photo ops of their arrests, but when Berta led her followers in direct physical assault on senior citizens in May, the lie was given to the damas’ “narrative.” (See “Urgente: Damas de Blanco En Acción #Cuba by María Carla González, La Santa Mambisa May 16, 2016, with video embedded of the assault). See video.
This time they have been in the Cuban news, and their U.S. media supporters have gone silent – or at least videolinkless.
Now, it’s out there for all to see. Perhaps the damas’ luck, as well as their ladylikeness, has finally run out.