As the founder of the Human Rights Foundation, Thor Halvorssen takes great pride in putting on his Oslo Freedom Forum each year. This meeting allows journalists from around the world to hear stories from human rights supporters. One of the things that he is most proud of is the presentation of the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent each year. In 2013, the award was presented to The Ladies in White from Cuba. This group continues to fight to get their message heard about conditions in their homeland.
This group was founded in 2003 by family members of people being held by the repressive Fidel Castro regime. Most of those in jail were arrested during Cuba’s Black Spring for collaborating with foreign journalists and for illegal organization. Each Sunday, the women attend mass together dressed in white. They walk the streets of the city after services. White was chosen because it symbolizes peace. The ladies have been punched. They have had hot tar thrown on them. Yet, they continue to try to get their message out.
More than 50 of the Ladies in White were arrested just hours before President Barack Obama came to Cuba. Berta Soler was arrested eight times during the month that Obama visited. In all, the Cuban government arrested 1,416 protesters during March 2016. The government also arrested at least 1,100 protesters during each month leading up to the president’s meeting with Raul Castro.
Human rights advocates in Cuba say that another contributing factor is that Easter was celebrated during this period. People are not free in Cuba to practice their faith. Maikel Armenteros Orama and Osney Quintana García were arrested just for displaying an anti-government sign.
Human rights advocates say that there continues to be many problems in Cuba. They say that while the government has largely stopped using long-term imprisonments as a way to hush them, they are arrested more frequently now. Many have been arrested for writing or saying things against the government. The government often will not let international monitors in to see supporters held in prison.
Thor Halvorssen says that he hopes that United States lawmakers will continue to examine the situation closely before normalizing ties with the country.