Europeans decry Cuba's refusal to let women get prize
Dominican Today, Dominican Republic, December 13, 2005.
Strasbourg, France.- Both the conservatives and the Socialists who make up the bulk of the European Parliament blasted on Tuesday the Cuban Communist regime's refusal to allow several women rights activists to fly to France to receive a prestigious award.
Cuba's Women in White, an organization of female relatives of political prisoners, shares this year's Sakharov Prize with Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, a press-freedom watchdog.
The award is given annually by the European Parliament, and this year's presentation ceremony is set for Wednesday.
"I call on the Cuban authorities to let them depart. If they do not, we will be obliged to again harshly criticize (one of) the last Communist dictatorships on the planet," said Germany's Hans-Gert Poettering, the head of the center-right European Popular Party.
"We reject the Cuban stance and are going to protest," said the head of the Socialist bloc, Martin Schulz, who also is German.
Cuban democracy advocate and rights activist Oswaldo Paya was awarded the Sakharov Prize in 2002. He was allowed to fly to Europe at the last minute to receive it.
Cuba's 47-year-old one-party state is one of the few in the world that requires of its citizens official permission to leave the country.
The Women in White movement includes wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and other female relatives of the 75 dissidents arrested and sentenced in spring 2003 to jail terms averaging 20 years. The prisoners - mostly democracy advocates and independent journalists and librarians - were convicted of "undermining the revolution."
"I believe they are not going to call us. It's not that we have lost hope, and there is no discouragement, because though we won't be there, the award will be given to us. It won't be in Strasbourg, but we will receive the prize," Women in White member and spokesperson Miriam Leiva told the press in Havana on Monday.
Clad in white to symbolize both peace and the innocence of their jailed relatives, the Women in White hold meetings and vigils, attend Mass together every Sunday and mount peaceful protest marches through the streets of Havana.
The women sometimes are harassed during their pro-rights activities by pro-government throngs.
The speaker of the European Parliament, Spanish Socialist Josep Borrell, said Monday that "everything possible is being done" to prevail on Havana to let the woman make the trip to Strasbourg.
He commented in response to a question on the floor of the parliament from Spanish conservative Jose Ignacio Salafranca, who urged Borrell to exert "all his efforts" on behalf of the Women in White, who "have committed no offense other than to bravely defend the rights of their family members."
The parliament has organized a number of events for the prize recipients, including appearances before the body's human rights commission, a press conference, the awards ceremony and a luncheon with Borrell.
The prize, which honors the memory of Soviet dissident and Nobel peace laureate Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989), is conferred on individuals and organizations that work to protect human rights and ethnic minorities, advance international cooperation and promote democracy and the rule of law.
Past winners include South Africa's Nelson Mandela, the Argentine rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.