Orlando and John-our dear hosts, Carl and Barbara-two mentors of mine, respected human rights leaders from Cuba, distinguished guests, dear brothers and sisters:
I am very honored and moved to have the privilege of making these presentations of the 2015 Pedro Luis Boitel Freedom Prize. I am honored and moved because of the commitment and sacrifice made by the winners of the prize.
The first winner, Sirley Ávila León, an ex-delegate of the People’s Assembly, fought valiantly when the regime wanted shut down a school in the area she represented. When officials refused to meet with her and the press failed to report the issue, she appealed to the international media and joined the opposition. Her activism made her a priority target of the political police. They spied on her, tried to commit her to a psychiatric hospital, and gravely wounded her in a machete attack last Spring. The attack deeply cut her neck and knees; she lost her left hand; and she could still lose her right arm. Her bravery is remarkable.
The second winner, the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, is not yet a year old. But it has already helped orchestrate the efforts of 15 human right groups, various independent journalists, scholars, artists and activists. The Forum works under the leadership of three general coordinators: Berta Soler from the Ladies in White; Antonio Rodiles from Estado de SATs; and Jorge Luis García Antúnez from the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance Front.
The Forum advances on two fronts:
1) A road map or specific proposals for moving toward a free and democratic Cuba; and
2) Civic action in the public sphere.
Both paths are designed to resolve U.S.-Cuba relations in a way that truly advances human rights and liberty in Cuba. Most importantly, the Forum is helping bring about unity among the Cuban freedom fighters and in the unity we see hope.
Tonight, we also honor the Ladies in White and its martyred leader Laura Polan. Ladies in White is world famous as an opposition movement founded in 2003 by the wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents. They protest those imprisonments by attending Mass each Sunday wearing white dresses symbolizing peace, and then silently walking through the streets. The movement received the internationally recognized Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 2005.
Laura Pollan was a prominent Cuban dissident leader, who helped found the group, and then bravely led its marches in the face of insults and abuse from government supporters, and even, on several occasions, during tornadoes. I couldn’t help noticing that w hen the Ladies in White received the Sakharov Prize, Pollan was not allowed to leave Cuba to attend the award ceremony, just as, a few years later, Liu Xiaobo was not allowed to leave prison, let alone the country, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize he had been awarded. That vividly brings home the truly universal nature of human rights and of the bonds that unite all of us devoted to those fundamental principles.
Let’s consider the unifying dynamics of this ceremony. Here I am, a Chinese dissident working to end denial of human rights in China, making this presentation in Miami, USA, to human rights champions in Cuba, of an award named after a Cuban human rights forbearer, created by a Romanian dissident, with the backing of several Eastern European nations who suffered under the yoke of Soviet Communism. This year’s jury for the prize consists of five members from Canada, Mexico, Egypt, Ukraine and China. And in the audience is the Syrian freedom fighter Moustafa.
These special circumstances demonstrate the bonds that unite all of us working to promote human rights, rule of law and democratic values. They remind each of us to keep in mind not only the victims of human rights abuse in our own homelands, but also to support and stand with those defending human rights in other lands. It is in this spirit that the heroism embodied in the Boitel Prize winners’ spirits, words and deeds will serve as an important source of inspiration, not only to the freedom-loving people of Cuba, but also of the rest of the world including, my home country China. So, tonight, let’s stand together in solidarity with all the oppressed people around the world and say to one another: Your slavery is my servitude; Your fight is my struggle; and Your liberty will be my freedom.