Cuba's 'Ladies' to pick up EU prize 8 years later

AP News
Posted: Apr 17, 2013 5:56 PM
Cuba's 'Ladies' to pick up EU prize 8 years later

HAVANA (AP) — Members of Cuba's Ladies in White opposition group will finally pick up Europe's top human rights prize from 2005 in person next week in Belgium, the European Union and the daughter of the group's former leader said Wednesday.

In a statement, the EU said several representatives of the Ladies will be awarded the Sakharov Prize in an April 23 ceremony at the European Parliament in Brussels.

"It will be an honor to go in representation of the Ladies in White and above all my mother, Laura Pollan," said Laura Labrada. Pollan, the group's co-founder and most prominent leader at the time, died in October 2011.

Labrada said she and Belkis Cantillo would leave Sunday and later meet up with Berta Soler, another co-founder of the Ladies, and Blankita Reyes.

The Ladies in White formed in 2003 to demand freedom for their loved ones, 75 government opponents who had been jailed that spring in a crackdown on dissidents.

They became known for their Sunday post-Mass marches down a leafy Havana boulevard, dressed all in white. All 75 prisoners have since been released.

The EU honored the Ladies eight years ago for their activism, but they were denied permission to travel to receive the Sakharov.

Cuban authorities did not immediately comment on the news of their upcoming trip. Havana routinely calls dissidents traitorous "mercenaries" who accept foreign money and try to destabilize the country.

This January, President Raul Castro's government ended the much-detested exit visa that had been required of all Cuban travelers for decades.

Since then a number of dissidents have traveled overseas including noted blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has been on a tour of at least a dozen nations since February.

However other government opponents with pending legal cases against them have been denied passports.