Everybody has heard of the Nobel Peace Prize. Over the years, it has honored people for doing great things. Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 for negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese War, George Marshall in 1953, Norman Borlaug in 1970 for the green revolution, and Lech Walesa in 1983.
There have been deserving winners recently, too, such as Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year Pakistani girl, who won in 2014 after being shot in the head by the Taliban for going to school and writing about it, and Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human rights activist, who won in 2010 but was not allowed to go to Oslo to collect the prize (surprise). He also became just the second winner to die in custody.
Others, however, have been questionable, such as Kofi Annan and the United Nations in 2001. (The people of Rwanda were not consulted. See, inter alia, here and here.) Three recent winners seem to have won mostly because they weren’t George W. Bush: Jimmy Carter in 2002,1 Al Gore in 2007 (he should have won the presidential election in 2000), and Barack Obama in 2009 (George W. Bush was finally gone). Also, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won in 2013. We have seen how successful they have been.
“The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) have a simple message: The political prisoners of Cuba are our sons, our brothers, and our husbands. They must not be forgotten.
Every Sunday, the Ladies in White gather, or attempt to gather, for Mass at Saint Rita de Casia Church in Havana, followed by a procession down Fifth Avenue. They wear white to symbolize the peaceful nature of their protest, and each wears a photograph of a loved one who is in prison. For this the authorities have constantly harassed them and organized mob violence against them.”
The Ladies in White previously won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which is awarded by the European Parliament, in 2005, but still their struggle is too little known, especially in the United States.
Wikipedia links to articles on arrests of the Ladies in White in 2010, 2012, 2015, and 2016. (There have been many more.) The 2016 arrests occurred just before Barack Obama visited Cuba. President Obama apparently hoped, by trying to improve relations with Cuba, that things might change for the Cuban people. They haven’t. The Ladies in White are still being harassed. As for the supposed economic opening, while Raúl Castro has given up the presidency of Cuba, he is still the head of the Communist Party. In a speech last year to the National Assembly, he criticized Cubans for trying to get ahead:
“There are reports of cases where the same person has two, three, four and as many as five restaurants. Someone who has traveled abroad as many as 30 times. Where did he get the money?”
What kind of a country considers it a danger for somebody to own five restaurants or travel aboard a number of times? For that matter, what kind of country arrests women trying to go to church or peacefully marching on behalf of family members in jail?
The Ladies in White are a worthy winner of the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty – and are worthy of our respect.
1 I agree President Carter has done great things for charity since he left office. The timing of the Prize, however, October 11, 2002, in the lead-up to the Iraq War, does lead one to wonder what it was really for.