Posted on Mon, Oct. 31, 2005
Women with a cause
OUR OPINION: CUBA'S LADIES IN WHITE GET DESERVED BOOST, PROTECTION
The Ladies in White, Las Damas de Blanco in Cuba, received deserved
recognition last week from the European Parliament for their courageous
efforts to free political prisoners. Their Sakharov Prize for Freedom of
Thought, one of Europe's most important human-rights awards, provides
moral backing for Cuba's beleaguered dissidents even as it rebukes the
Cuban regime for its repression of basic freedoms.
Indeed, the Cuban women shared the 2005 award with Reporters Without
Borders, a Paris-based organization that has tirelessly lobbied to free
more than 20 independent journalists imprisoned in Cuba. This follows
the 2003 Sakharov Prize awarded to Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.
The Ladies in White are a group of wives and other relatives of 75
activists jailed during the regime's 2003 crackdown on dissent. The men
now face lengthy prison terms for loaning out books, petitioning for
constitutional changes and criticizing the government -- what is routine
in free countries. The women organized spontaneously, moving from
consoling each other, to going to church together, to demanding freedom
for their husbands. After Sunday mass, they began to march in silent
protest, dressed all in white, gladiolus in hand. They've circulated
petitions and written letters to top-level regime officials demanding
the unconditional release of the so-called Group of 75.
The group faces attacks from regime-sponsored mobs and routine
intimidation. Foreign-press coverage, however, spread their fame and
gave them a measure of protection from reprisals. By further
highlighting their struggle, the Sakharov Prize will add to that protection.
Miriam Leiva is one of the Damas de Blanco. Her husband, prominent
dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe, was conditionally released last year.
''This prize is an acknowledgment by the international community,'' she
said, ``and a clear message that the world is watching with great
attention the human-rights situation in Cuba.''