Press release

Freedom House to Present Annual Awards to Cuban Activists, Founding President of the National Endowment for Democracy

Cuban artists and activists Maykel Castillo Pérez (known as Maykel Osorbo) and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara will receive the 2022 Freedom Award. NED founder and longtime leader Carl Gershman will receive the 2022 Leadership Award.

In recognition of their activism under the repressive Cuban regime, Freedom House will award Maykel Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, leaders of Cuba’s Movimiento San Isidro (MSI), its 2022 Freedom Award. The organization will also present its Leadership Award to Carl Gershman, founding president of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), who headed the organization for nearly 40 years.

The honorees will receive the awards at Freedom House’s 2022 Annual Awards Dinner on May 4 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC.

Castillo Pérez and Otero Alcántara have been detained for their human rights work since 2021 and remain in prison today. Accepting the award on their behalf will be Anamely Ramos, an artist and defender of cultural rights in Cuba who has collaborated with MSI on campaigns to promote free expression and counter censorship.

“As we face enormous challenges to freedom around the world, it is an honor to celebrate the incredible courage of this year’s awardees in standing up to tyranny,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Despite repression and setbacks, the human desire for freedom is only growing stronger. Its champions around the world—like Maykel, Luis Manuel, and their brave compatriots who last year staged the largest prodemocracy demonstration in Cuba since 1959—need support from democratic powers and international organizations if they are to prevail. Freedom House expresses its solidarity with the Cuban people, supporting their quest for freedom for as long as it takes to achieve the rights and liberties that all people deserve.”

“I am also thrilled Freedom House is honoring Carl Gershman, an unflagging and fierce defender of freedom,” Abramowitz continued. “Under his leadership, the National Endowment for Democracy has become a potent bulwark of support for human rights defenders and other activists fighting for freedom all over the world, and a symbol of American’s bipartisan commitment to the cause of global democracy.” 

At this year’s gala, former secretary of homeland security and Freedom House chairman Michael Chertoff will interview Representative Liz Cheney about the health of global democracy. Special remarks will also be delivered by Anastasiia Lykholat, senior program officer for Freedom House in Ukraine.


Maykel Castillo Pérez, known in the cultural and activist world as Maykel Osorbo, is a music artist who cowrote the 2021 Grammy award–winning song “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), which has become a resistance anthem of the Cuban people. He has been detained by the Cuban authorities since May 2021 and now faces up to 10 years in prison on fabricated charges.

In November 2020, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara led a hunger strike of a dozen other MSI activists in Havana, which ended with a violent intervention by local police. He has been detained by the Cuban authorities since July 11, 2021, when state security forces arrested him in Havana on his way to participate in island-wide prodemocracy demonstrations. He had previously been arrested in May 2021 while peacefully conducting an eight-day hunger and thirst strike in protest of the illegal confiscation of his art by state security officers, and has been subject to other past arrests and surveillance. He now faces up to seven years in prison.

Movimiento San Isidro is a group of Cuban artists and intellectuals that have mobilized against government censorship of artistic expression in Cuba. MSI was founded in 2018 to protest Cuba’s Decree Law 349, which requires the Cuban Ministry of Culture to approve all public and private cultural activities and empowers the government to ban artistic production based on arbitrary criteria.

Carl Gershman is a lifelong champion of human rights and democracy. Prior to serving as president of the National Endowment for Democracy, he was senior counselor to the US Representative to the United Nations and a resident scholar at Freedom House. As NED president, Gershman oversaw the creation of the quarterly Journal of Democracy, the International Forum for Democratic Studies, the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program, and the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA). The NED is an independent, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. Each year, NED makes more than 2,000 grants to support the projects of nongovernmental groups abroad who are working for democratic goals in more than 100 countries.

For 80 years, Freedom House has worked to defend and expand freedom globally. To help create a world where all people are free, Freedom House identifies threats to freedom, spurs collective action to counter those threats, and supports activists working to defend and expand freedom. Since 1943, Freedom House has recognized outstanding leaders who have championed freedom and democracy. Past recipients of the Freedom Award include His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Vaclav Havel, the playwright, dissident, and first postcommunist president of Czechoslovakia; Saudi activist Hala Al-Dosari; journalist Edward R. Murrow; Uyghur activist Ilham Tohti; and Spanish musician and opponent of the Franco dictatorship Pablo Casals. Recent recipients of the Leadership Award include then Vice President Joe Biden, Senator John McCain, Senator Bob Corker, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Lindsay Graham.

Freedom House is grateful to our Anniversary Sponsors—Robert Tuttle and Maria Hummer-Tuttle—and Freedom Supporters—Thomas and Susan Kahn, and Nilita and Vivek Paul—for their support of this year’s event.