2009 Democracy Award

June 24, 2009
05:30 pm - 07:00 pm

HONORING the Heroes of Human Rights and Democracy in Cuba

On Wednesday June 24, 2009, the National Endowment for Democracy honored the heroic efforts of Cuban activists working to advance democratic values and fundamental rights within Cuba with the presentation of its annual Democracy Award. The winners were honored in absentia.

For fifty years the people of Cuba have been denied basic political, social, and economic freedoms. On this day, we recognized the courage and sacrifice of five activists who are determined to reclaim those freedoms for their country. Our honorees represent the broad and vibrant spectrum of opinion and activism in Cuba today. 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. They are united in their commitment to democratic values, a philosophy of non-violence, and the goal of a free Cuba.

Their personal sacrifices are humbling: Ferrer, Linares, and Carrillo are in prison, arrested in the 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown on democratic activists. Their combined sentences total 70 years. Antúnez himself was imprisoned for 17 years until his release in 2007.

Read the honorees’ biographies.

Perez has lived under constant harassment and now, with her husband Antúnez, is under house arrest, separated from her 14 year-old son. Despite solitary confinement, beatings, the denial of medical care, and separation from family, all five have persisted in their cause, countering their oppressors with hunger strikes and organizing for the support of other political prisoners.

Antúnez has written, “Peaceful action disarms oppressors in a moral sense. They may impede some action, but never the spirit or the goal that propels these activities.” Today we proudly stand in solidarity with these five in their struggle, confident that their dream of Cuba Libre will be realized.

Speakers at the award ceremony included:

  • Richard Gephardt, Chairman, NED Board of Directors :: VIDEO
  • Howard Berman (D-CA) :: VIDEO
  • Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
  • Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) :: VIDEO
  • Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL) :: VIDEO
  • Kenneth Wollack, National Democratic Institute :: VIDEO
  • Carl Gershman, NED President :: MORE

Presentation of Awards:
Acceptance by Bertha Antúnez Pernet and Orlando Gutierrez :: VIDEO

The award presentation was preceded by a roundtable discussion, Toward a Free Cuba: the Prospect for Democracy after 50 Years of Dictatorship. The discussion panelists include notable activists and advocates for basic rights in Cuba, including:

  • José Azel, Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami :: VIDEO
  • Marifeli Pérez-Stable, vice president for democratic governance at the Inter-American Dialogue :: VIDEO
  • Janisset Rivero Gutierrez, a noted human rights activist :: VIDEO 
  • José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch :: VIDEO
  • Bertha Antúnez Pernet, a leader of the National Movement of Civic Resistance “Pedro Luis Boitel.”
  • Question and Answer Session :: VIDEO


We would like to thank the following for their contribution toward this event:

American Federation of Teachers
Hurford Foundation

Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative’s Office

The Albert Shanker Institute

We also wish to acknowledge the gracious assistance of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and Thomas Marsh.

Messages of Solidarity from: President Barack Obama, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Oswaldo Paya