Cuban political dissident to receive 2024 International Women of Courage award by US government

Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello gives an interview in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. The U.S. State Department announced on March 1, 2024, that Roque will be awarded the 2024 International Women of Courage Award. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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By ANDREA RODRÍGUEZ

Associated Press

HAVANA (AP) — Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, a veteran Cuban dissident who never left the island despite being imprisoned twice and accused of being a United States agent, will be awarded the 2024 International Women of Courage Award, the U.S. Department of State said Friday.

Roque, 78, who spent decades protesting against her country’s single-party model, said she will not be able to receive the prize in person because she has been “regulated” since 2018, meaning that she is prevented from leaving the island and cannot get a passport.

“I am very happy about this award. I’m grateful to the United States embassy in Cuba that put forward the proposal,” Roque told The Associated Press in a recent interview at the residence of a U.S. official on the island. “At least it is a way of saying ‘you have spent 35 years working for Cuban democracy.'”

The IWOC Award, now in its 18th year, recognizes women from around the world who have “demonstrated exceptional courage, strength and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equity and equality,” according to the U.S. State Department.

Roque, an economist by profession, worked for the Cuban government before a political rupture that drew international attention in 1997 when, together with three other Cubans — Félix Bonne, René Gómez Manzano and Vladimiro Roca — she created the Internal Dissidence Working Group and signed a declaration titled “The Homeland belongs to everyone,” calling for political and economic openness.

The so-called “Group of Four” ended up in court and Roque was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on charges of attacking State security and sedition. She was released in May 2000 but continued her activism and in 2002 formed The Assembly to Promote Civil Society.

In March 2003, Roque was the only woman arrested — among 75 people — during a roundup of dissidents whom the government accused of accepting financing from the U.S. government and interest groups.

She received a sentence of 20 years in prison in a trial in which the strongest witness against her was her own assistant, Aleida Godínez, who then identified herself as a government security agent. In July 2004 Roque was released — but not exonerated — for medical reasons.

The European Union and organizations such as Amnesty International pressed for the release of the 75 prisoners who were finally released — the last in 2011 — under a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church and the government of Spain. Many went into exile with their families.

Today, away from public view, Roque says she regrets that the record migration from the island is holding up the creation of a real opposition and says that her legacy as a veteran dissident is precisely her staying in the country.

“As part of the old opposition, we are going to leave behind an example because not everyone (the dissidents) left, but almost everyone went to prison,” she said.

Roque also expressed regret about some of the radical comments she made during her life as a dissident, like saying she didn’t care if the U.S. invaded Cuba to overthrow the government.

“I am not the person I was 15 or 20 years ago … and my experience would make me not say things that I said in the past,” Roque told the AP. “I firmly think that the solution for the people of Cuba is here, inside the country, just as other countries have come to solve their dictatorial problem.”