For Immediate Release, October 8, 2002
Civil Courage Prize Awarded to Vladimiro Roca Antunez
New York - Vladimiro Roca Antunez, who rejected a life of privilege in Castro's Cuba and was imprisoned for challenging the Communist regime, received The Civil Courage Prize and a $50,000 cash award on October 8 at a reception hosted by the Northcote Parkinson Fund at Harold Pratt House in New York City. Mr. Roca is the third recipient of the annual Prize, awarded for "steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk."
The Hon. John Train, founder of the Prize and Chairman of the Fund, presented an original medal struck for the occasion along with the cash prize, a portion of which the recipient says he will use "to help political prisoners with financial problems, as well as their families." Mr. Roca, an opponent of the regime since the 1980s, was himself a political prisoner for five years, following his co-authorship of an opposition document, "My Homeland Belongs to All." He was released May 5, 2002.
This year, an additional special prize of $5,000 was awarded to another Cuban dissident, Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, 76, for his steadfast resistance to the Castro regime since the mid-60s, despite imprisonments, torture and intimidation. He founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in 1983 and also formulated the Arcos Principles, a set of well-known guidelines for doing business in Cuba.
Of the prize selection, Mr. Train said, "We honor individuals, like Mr. Roca and Mr. Arcos, whose active and unflinching courage, over many years, in pursuit of freedom for their fellows shines as a beacon to those who would follow the path of liberty."
In founding the prize three years ago, Mr. Train, investment counselor, author and philanthropist, has stated that while civil courage-courage by individuals-should be expected of thoughtful people, "I'm sorry to say that many intellectuals-including American intellectuals-are cowards. I'm a propagandist for the idea that if everybody says, 'The devil take the hindmost,' the devil soon works his way to the head of the line."
Mr. Roca began his opposition to the Cuban regime after growing up as son of Blas Roca, General Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. With this background young Roca had easy entrée to the former USSR and trained there as a military jet pilot. On his return he became an officer and later an instructor in the Cuban Air Force. After his military service, he studied to become an economist at the Commerce Ministry and was seen as a future deputy minister. Eventually, his contacts abroad and understanding of economics led him to realize the inefficiency of Castro's totalitarian economy and its waste of Cuba's substantial resources.
By the end of the 1980s, Mr. Roca registered his opposition to policies he considered misguided, published articles critiquing Cuba's socioeconomic situation and was targeted as a dissident. He suffered harassment and abuse, which was magnified because of his family's high position in the Cuban nomenklatura. Nonetheless, his choice was to stay in Cuba and work to change the regime rather than flee. In 1997, with three other noted dissidents Mr. Roca signed a crucial document in defense of human rights and against political discrimination and the distortion of Cuban history. A week later all four signers were jailed, under harsh but typical conditions: Mr. Roca was confined to a six-by-seven-foot cell, with a hole in the ground for a toilet and a table serving as a bed; water would run only three times a day for 20 to 30 minutes. Mr. Roca was only set free after an international outcry in May of this year. Currently, he serves as president of the Cuban Social Democratic Party working for multiparty democracy in Cuba.
In accepting the prize, Mr. Roca issued a statement saying, in part, "I began to oppose the government only when ... I clearly realized that this government's economic system would destroy all the riches of my country ... I continue to peacefully fight for gradual change towards a democratic Cuba, a free Cuba, and to promote a respect for the human rights of all Cubans, even those who peacefully disagree with the practices of the government, as is outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other United Nations documents ... I promise I will never let you down as I continue to fight for the change in Cuba that Cubans and citizens around the world desire."
This year's special prizewinner, Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, founder and executive secretary of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, long ago questioned the repression of the Cuban regime while still Castro"s ambassador to Belgium. He had earlier met Castro when both were students at the University of Havana. Shot and wounded in the insurrection against Fulgencia Batista at the Moncada army barracks in 1953, he later worked for the Castro revolution gathering munitions throughout Latin America until 1959. But by 1965, when he was offered a new post in Moscow, he rejected it, and the direction Castro was taking the government. Several months later, in 1966, he was imprisoned and only released after three years. He was not allowed to leave the country, however. In 1981, he was imprisoned again with his brother Sebastian for trying to leave the country illegally. By 1983, he joined other prisoners when from prison they formed the Cuban Committee for Human Rights.
The Committee for Human Rights sent out denunciations of the deplorable conditions under which prisoners were kept. By 1986, the Cuban government was forced to allow some visits by international human rights organizations and the release of some prisoners, including, in 1988, Mr. Arcos himself.
Mr. Arcos continued the work of the Human Rights Committee and called on Castro to convene a "National Dialogue" to include all segments of Cuban society. Castro's response was to send a mob to attack first his brother's then Mr. Arcos's home.
From exile, many old friends asked Mr. Arcos to dissolve the Committee to save its members' lives. He replied: "The Cuban Committee for Human Rights will continue its work, even if it costs us our own lives ... no terror, nor propaganda will be able to deter the development of humanistic ideas in our country." His guidelines-called the Arcos Principles-for foreign investors are well worth noting:
- Only hire Cubans directly, not through a government agency
- There should be a 48-hour work week
- Hiring should ignore political orientation
- Employees should be able to organize independent unions
- Cubans should have access to hotels, beaches and other public areas
- Cubans should have access to the same services and goods now only available to tourists.
At the award ceremony on October 8, Justice Richard Goldstone offered keynote remarks on the subject of civil courage. Justice Goldstone (CHIEF PROSECUTOR FOR THE U.N. TRIBUNALS ON RWANDA AND THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA, CURRENT HEAD OF THE INTERNATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION'S TASK FORCE ON TERRORISM, AND JUSTICE, AND SINCE 1980, A MEMBER OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OF SOUTH AFRICA) has previously written that the Civil Courage Prize "...is an innovative concept and I have no doubt it will serve to illustrate the power for good which people of courage can exercise."
In 2000, Natasa Kandic of Belgrade received the Northcote Parkinson Fund's first Civil Courage Prize award at a ceremony in London for her heroic efforts over many years to document war crimes by all sides in the Yugoslav conflict and to resist bigotry and persecution of minorities.
Last year's honoree, Mr. Paul Kamara, accepted the prize in Turin, Italy for his bravery publishing a pro-democracy newspaper in Sierra Leone over many years, despite imprisonment, torture and sabotage. Past, posthumous honorable mentions have gone to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Raoul Wallenberg, and Judge Giovanni Falcone, among others.
Prize founder John Train, distinguished writer, columnist and investment counselor, explains that it was primarily Alexander Solzhenitsyn's heroic life that led him to establish the Civil Courage Prize: "There is no expression in English for the particular kind of heroism that Solzhenitzyn's life exemplified, inflexibly resisting the evil Soviet system through trials, imprisonment, abuse, exile in Siberia and elsewhere and other forms of extreme duress, while suffering from cancer, incidentally." Mr. Train calls this inspiring virtue among individual citizens "civil courage," to distinguish it from military bravery among soldiers on the field of battle.
All queries regarding this Prize may be directed to the Executive Director of the Northcote Parkinson Fund in New York City, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 212-737-1011.
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