Cuba's 'Ladies in White' wins prestigious prize
Posted on Thu, Oct. 27, 2005
Cuba’s ‘Ladies in White’ wins prestigious prize
Cuba’s ”Ladies in White,” a group of wives of jailed dissidents, won
the European parliament’s 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
BY FRANCES ROBLES
The ladies wear white and march in protest down Havana’s Fifth Avenue,
flowers in hand.
Sometimes, bystanders hurl insults at these women who dare to defy. They
are the ”Ladies in White,” formed two years ago to demand the release
of their husbands, political prisoners in a country where speaking out
against the government is a subversive act worth 25 years in prison.
On Wednesday, Cuba’s Damas de Blanco were one of three winners of the
European Union’s 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, considered
one of Europe’s most prestigious human rights awards. The prize
underscores the emerging international significance of a group of ladies
— housewives — who take to the street every Sunday after church. They
are reminiscent of Argentina’s Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who started
quiet marches in downtown Buenos Aires looking for their missing kids
and wound up a major human rights organization.
”Let me say that we’re not an organization, but women, wives, mothers
and sisters who united,” said Gisela Delgado, whose husband Héctor
Palacios is serving a 25-year sentence. “It’s the first time in 47
years that women in Cuba go out to the street to protest against unjust
The Ladies in White formed in March 2003 after the Cuban government
launched a sudden sweep against dissidents nationwide. Seventy-five
people were arrested for crimes such as independent journalism and
running private libraries.
The wives had nowhere to turn, so they turned to each other. They
gathered on Sundays at St. Rita church to discuss brief, sporadic
jailhouse visits and the appalling conditions their husbands faced. Soon
those weekly meetings developed into regular peaceful protests on Fifth
Their homes were ransacked. They were threatened. On Palm Sunday last
year, the pro-government Federation of Cuban Women heckled them.
”The ladies in white continue to campaign despite attempts to silence
them,” the European Parliament said in a statement on its web site.
“International support for their cause has been extensive.”
The European parliament passed a resolution in support of the imprisoned
men last year and approved sanctions against Cuba. The measures were
lifted in January, but relations between the EU and Cuba are still strained.
The Cuban government had no immediate public reaction to the prize.
The Sakharov award, named after a Soviet dissident, has special
political significance for nations that enjoy relations with the EU,
said Lucie Morrillon, U.S. spokeswoman for Paris-based Reporters Without
Borders, an international press freedom group that also won Wednesday.
”I’m glad we won, and I’m also glad we have to share it,” she said.
“We dedicate this to the 110 jailed journalists throughout the world.”
Of them, 23 are in Cuba, she said.
”It’s an honor, not for us, but for our husbands,” said Lady in White
Elsa González Padrón, whose husband, Víctor Rolando Arroyo, is one of
the jailed journalists. “Ladies in White was a spontaneous movement by
women who united in pain, a situation the government provoked by jailing
Cuban women have always played an important role in political history,
said Uva de Aragón, assistant director of Florida International
University’s Cuban Research Institute.
They shaved their heads to protest Spanish colonization and fought
against presidents Gerardo Machado and Fulgencio Batista. But never, de
Aragón said, did women gather in groups and fight back against Fidel
Castro — especially in public — before now. ”I think they are
counting on the international community and that this is a machista
regime that respects women,” she said. “These are women, dressed in
white, with a flower in their hands. It’s a powerful statement which is
difficult for the regime to deal with.”
The women will split $50,000 euros ($60,290) with Reporters Without
Borders and Nigerian lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim, who represents women who face
being stoned to death for adultery.