Human Rights in Cuba

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Posted on Wednesday, 04.24.13

Eight years late, Cuba's pick up Sakharov prize in Brussels

By Juan O. Tamayo

Cuba's Ladies in White finally received their Sakharov prize Tuesday, in

a ceremony delayed by Havana for eight years but described by the head

of the European Parliament as proof that "no dictatorship in the world

can stop democracy."

"Our dignity is much bigger than the hatred of those who repress us,"

Laura Labrada, daughter of the group's late founder Laura Pollán,

declared during the emotional session at the parliament's headquarters

in Brussels, .

The Ladies in White were awarded the Sakharov Prize for of

Thought in 2005, but Cuban authorities did not allow them to to

Brussels to pick it up. A change in Cuban travel rules in January meant

they could finally travel to Europe.

Labrada, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and member Belkis Cantillo

walked onto the parliament floor dressed in the group's traditional

white clothing and with their right hands high in the air made the "L"

of liberty with thumbs and index fingers.

Blanca Reyes, who represents the women's group in and picked up

the 50,000-euro (now $65,000) prize money in 2005, also attended the

European Parliament's session, which was broadcast live by Radio and TV


Soler told a news conference before the ceremony that the European Union

must keep up its tough policy on Cuba and maintain its "Common

Position," which ties any improvement in policies toward the island

to Havana's record.

Although President Raúl Castro has launched some reforms, Cuba

"lamentably continues to be the only Latin American country that does

not tolerate any type of democratic opposition," Parliament President

Martin Schulz declared.

Pollán founded the Ladies in White for the wives, mothers, daughters and

other female relatives of a group of 75 peaceful dissidents sentenced to

long terms during a crackdown in 2003 known as Cuba's Black

Spring. Their marches after Sunday masses at the Santa Rita church in

Havana became the only public protest regularly tolerated by the

communist government.

The last of dissidents was freed from prison in 2011, the same

year that Pollán died, and all but about a dozen left for Spain. But the

remaining women, plus dozens of new "support ladies," are now active in

virtually every major city on the island.

Cantillo's husband, Jose Daniel , was freed in 2011 and went on to

found the Cuban Patriotic Union, now one of the most active

groups in Cuba. He launched a hunger strike last week to demand the

release of about 30 jailed supporters.

Soler accepted the Sakharov prize, named after a famous Soviet

dissident, before calling for a minute of silence to honor Pollán and

Oswaldo Payá, who won the 2003 version of the prize and was killed in a

car crash last year.

Cuba allowed Payá to pick up his prize but then cracked down on travel

abroad by dissidents. Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the 2010 prize, was

also blocked from picking up his award that year but is expected to do

so in the next few months.

Schulz noted the delay of eight years in the women's trip to Brussels

but said it "showed the valor you have displayed in your work, and that

no dictatorship in the world can stop democracy."

He praised the group as "the symbol of the Cubans' resistance against

the Cuban government" and pointed to reports by human rights activists

that the number of arbitrary arrests for political reasons climbed to a

record 6,602 last year.

"If the governing cupola believes it has the full backing of the people,

if they really believe what they say in public, then they would not need

those kinds of numbers," Schulz added.

Labrada dismissed the Raúl Castro reforms as "insignificant little

changes" and said the gladiolas the Ladies in White carry in their

marches are "a symbol of the spring that is approaching our homeland."

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