At the award ceremony in Washington, DC, from L to R: Edward J. Olmos, Sen. Kennedy, Mrs. Ethel Kennedy, Al Hunt (CNN), and CIW members Lucas Benitez, Julia Gabriel, and Romeo Ramirez. For photos from the ceremony, click here.

In a gala ceremony on Capitol Hill — including speeches by Senator Edward Kennedy, actor Edward James Olmos, and a letter of congratulations from former President Jimmy Carter — Lucas Benitez, Julia Gabriel, and Romeo Ramirez of the CIW received the 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in recognition of their courageous work fighting modern-day slavery in the agricultural industry and their leadership of the national Taco Bell boycott.

A whirlwind week of events — beginning with the tense final day of a 34-mile march to Miami, in protest of the impact of free trade policies on human rights throughout the hemisphere (see below) — saw the new RFK laureates go from being surrounded by thousands of riot police in Miami to being feted by hundreds of celebrities, political leaders, and activists from around the country in Washington, DC.

At the ceremony, Lucas Benitez gave a moving speech in acceptance of the award. Here below is an excerpt of that speech. [To see the full text of Lucas Benitez’s acceptance speech, click here.]

“Just two days ago, we marched into downtown Miami surrounded by nearly 3,000 police in riot gear, mounted police, police on bicycles, police on foot, police in helicopters hovering above Miami’s skyline, their propellers beating out the soundtrack to what seemed to us like a movie about martial law in the US—all because we were there to call for fair trade that respects human rights, not free trade that exploits human beings… Yet today, we stand here in this historic city—in the heart of the US government—receiving this prestigious award for our work in defense of human rights… Truth is, my compañeros and I are confused. It’s hard for us to understand in which of the two worlds we actually live—in the world where the voice of the poor is feared and protest in defense of human rights is considered the gravest of threats to public security? Or in the world where the defense of human rights is celebrated and encouraged in the pursuit of a more just and equitable society?…” read more

While in Washington, the laureates protested at a DC-area Taco Bell restaurant (below, joined there by Mrs. Kennedy and Kerry Kennedy), dined at the former home of President Woodrow Wilson, talked with national and international press, and held several meetings on the Hill to discuss their work.

Read the letter from former President Jimmy Carter to the laureates!

For media from the ceremony, click on the links below: