Any Cuban with the courage to publicly oppose the Castro dictatorship — whether by working as an independent journalist, gathering signatures on a petition, placing a CAMBIO sticker on their house or participating in any other act of resistance — is a hero. It is impossible, nor relevant, to place Cuban opposition activists in some sort of hierarchy of importance. Some are better known than others, but all are deserving of honor and respect.
But if there are "giants" of the Cuban opposition, the National Endowment for Democracy has identified five worthy of a spot in such a pantheon.
“The five brave Cubans we honor this year represent the future of their country,” said NED Chairman Richard Gephardt. “All of them have endured significant personal hardship for nothing more than standing up for basic rights and freedoms. With this award, we hope to express our solidarity with their struggle, and let them know that we share their dream of a free and democratic Cuba."
The five honorees, all of whom have been frequently mentioned on this blog, are:
Click on their names, and you might rightfully conclude these are leading lights in the Cuban opposition and deserving of special recognition. But the real import of these awards is that if properly exploited — in the best sense of the word — more people will learn of the brave struggle in Cuba for freedom, democracy and human rights.
To read the whole National Endowment for Democracy news release, including more information on the honorees, go below the fold.
2009 DEMOCRACY AWARD WILL HONOR CUBAN DISSIDENTS ON JUNE 24
Five honorees represent a new and diverse generation of democratic activists
WASHINGTON, DC – The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) will honor the courage and determination of five Cuban democracy activists with the presentation of its annual Democracy Award at a Capitol Hill ceremony and reception on Wednesday, June 24, 2009.
“The five brave Cubans we honor this year represent the future of their country,” said NED Chairman Richard Gephardt. “All of them have endured significant personal hardhip for nothing more than standing up for basic rights and freedoms. With this award, we hope to express our solidarity with their struggle, and let them know that we share their dream of a free and democratic Cuba. “
The honorees are Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez, (aka “Antúnez”), José Daniel Ferrer García, Librado Linares García, Ivan Hernandez Carillo, and Iris Tamara Perez Aguilar. All five are relatively young, in their 30s and 40s, three are Afro-Cuban, one is a Christian Democrat and another is a Social Democrat, one is a trade unionist and another is a women’s leader. All of them espouse the philosophy of non-violent resistance and activism and, together, the five represent a broad spectrum of opinion and activism. García, Linares and Carillo are in prison; Antúnez was released in 2007 after 17 years in Cuban jails. Antúnez and Aguilar are living under virtual house arrest since beginning a hunger strike in March of this year.
The award presentation and reception will take place in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building from 5:30 – 7:00 pm, and will be preceded by a panel discussion examining the prospects for democracy in Cuba, which will begin at 3:30 pm in the same room.
The National Endowment for Democracy is a private, nonprofit, bipartisan foundation created in 1983 to strengthen democratic institutions around the world. It is active in more than 90 countries, supporting grassroots, democratic initiatives. More information about NED and the Democracy Award can be found at www.ned.org.
2009 Democracy Award Honorees
Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez (“Antúnez”)—A 43-year old leader of Cuba’s civic resistance movement who served more than 17 years in prison, having been released in 2007. During that period, his fellow inmates nicknamed him “the black diamond” because of his courage and unbreakable spirit. In “A Word from the Opposition” in the January, 2009 issue of the Journal of Democracy, Antúnez highlighted the Movement’s adherence to the principles of non-violent resistance as set forth by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. He is married to Iris Tamara Perez Aguilar, another honoree.
José Daniel Ferrer García is a youth activist and member of the Christian Liberation Movement who was instrumental in gathering hundreds of signatures and mobilizing people in poor, marginal neighborhoods in support of the Varela Project. García organized meetings with neighbors throughout the eastern provinces, turning them into informal town hall meetings where grievances were expressed and the desire for change articulated. He received one of the highest prison sentences of the group of dissidents arrested on March 18, 2003. He has been a leader of the resistance of political prisoners against the abuses of the regime from within prison walls.
Librado Linares García is a young intellectual and founder of the Cuban Reflection Movement. Linares organized independent libraries, soup kitchens for the poor, workshops among various dissident groups, as well as forums and conferences for citizens living in the central region of Cuba. He developed a comprehensive multi-tiered strategy of resistance against the regime, aimed at organizing and mobilizing Cuban civil society through non violent means. One of the pro-democracy leaders arrested on March 18, 2003, Linares has been suffering a progressive loss of eyesight during his imprisonment.
Ivan Hernandez Carrillo is an independent labor activist prior to his imprisonment in March, 2003, in his mid-30s and black, Carillo is widely regarded as one of the key youth leaders of the civic opposition. He is from Matanzas province, which, together with Villa Clara province, forms the geographical core of the Cuban resistance. Carillo has continued the resistance struggle during his incarceration.
Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera is founder and President of the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement, whose objectives are to struggle against human rights violations. Born in 1975 in Sancti Spiritus province in central Cuba, she entered the opposition movement in 1999, when her brother, Mario Pérez Aguilera, was imprisoned at Nieves Morejón prison. Ms. Aguilera is married to Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (“Antunez”).