Saturday, December 22, 2012

Oswaldo and Harold Five Months later: A Reflection

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero

 "I have read somewhere that in a totalitarian system martyrdom does better than thought. I am a realist and as such far from the patriotic illusion that the world, due to its hopeless ignorance, remains deprived of some fabulous intellectual" - Václav Havel

Five months ago today, on July 22, 2012 Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante, died under circumstances that have still not been cleared up in Cuba. There has been a call for an international investigation and signatures are still being gathered. The objective is to learn the truth of what took place and seek justice. International figures such as Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa have added their support in pursuit of the truth.

The regime has responded with its own propaganda offensive and show trial. At the same time the families of the victims have been denied the opportunity to speak to the survivors or even attend the show trial.

At the same time throughout Cuba the level of repression has more than doubled over the past year.

Oswaldo and Harold are no longer physically with us but their spirit lives on as does the Christian Liberation Movement and its principled nonviolent resistance to the dictatorship in Cuba.

Over the years may have been skeptical about the reality of an opposition movement in totalitarian Cuba. Despite courageous actions over the years many would ask themselves and sometimes openly exclaim how is it possible for someone to continue to challenge this ruthless dictatorship and survive? Add to that the dictatorship does create its own opposition front groups and infiltrate opposition movements. 

However, the reality that the regime has to engage in these practices should also indicate that there is an authentic opposition that they are trying to crush.

Havel's tragic observation that "martyrdom does better than thought"is also a response to these doubters and skeptics. When Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante died under these suspicious circumstances many who in the past had attacked Oswaldo now demonstrated their posthumous solidarity with him and his family.

 Nevertheless, real dissidents such as Václav Havel could see in Oswaldo Payá not only the sincerity of his convictions but the danger that such a courageous stand meant for his Cuban friend. Over the years Havel would engage in actions to raise the profile of Cuban dissidents, and of Oswaldo Payá in particular.

Václav Havel's efforts achieved concrete results such as Oswaldo being awarded the Sakharov Prize ten years ago on December 17, 2002 and twice nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Following Havel's death last year on December 18, 2011 on January 6, 2012 Oswaldo on the anniversary of  Charter 77 addressed a Czech audience and remembered his friend.  The Václav Havel Library has archived the video address of Oswaldo Payá that is embedded at the top of the page. 

Let us honor Oswaldo and Harold by continuing their struggle for nonviolent change in Cuba while at the same time seeking out the truth in the circumstances surrounding their deaths. In pursuing truth and justice for Oswaldo, Harold and other victims of the dictatorship one will be exercising "the power of the powerless" of which Havel wrote in his 1978 essay. At the same time after 53 years of totalitarianism in Cuba there is a haunting question raised by Havel that applies to Cuba:
"For the real question is whether the brighter future is really always so distant. What if, on the contrary, it has been here for a long time already, and only our own blindness and weakness has prevented us from seeing it around us and within us, and kept us from developing it."

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