Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cuban dissidents at the State Department: 2003 vs 2015

From being received by the Secretary of State in a private meeting to being threatened with physical removal from the State Department for asking a question.

Oswaldo Payá meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell on January 7, 2003
 On Tuesday, January 7, 2003 Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas met with Secretary of State Colin Powell in a private meeting that was later reported on by the State Department spokesperson. Below is video footage of the meeting and briefing.

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson issued a press release describing what went on at the meeting:
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that Powell "expressed his admiration" for Paya's efforts in Cuba. "It was a very good meeting and I think we heard a lot from Mr. Paya about the efforts that he and others in Cuba are making to try to bring about peaceful, democratic change in Cuba," Boucher said. Paya's 20-minute meeting with Powell followed a media picture-taking session where the two shook hands for the cameras.
 Twelve years later, and six years into the Obama presidency, everything has changed and not for the better. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas whose nonviolent path to Cuban liberation continues to inspire many was killed on July 22, 2012 along with youth leader Harold Cepero in what appears to have been a state security operation in eastern Cuba.

Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo at the State Department on July 20, 2015
On Monday, July 20, 2015 at the State Department, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo attended a press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry and Castro's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez. Rosa Maria had proper accreditation as a member of the press. She has had articles published in news publications such as The PanAm Post and her own blog. This did not stop Rear Admiral John Kirby, who was transferred from the Pentagon and in May of 2015 became the new State Department spokesman, from takeing Rosa Maria aside and warning her that she would be physically removed if she asked any questions or caused any kind of disturbance. Cecilia Bradley of NBC6 captured a blurry image of when Rosa Maria Payá was taken aside. The young activist tweeted a photo of Rear Admiral Kirby with the following text: "John Kirby kindly told me if I caused disturbances during the conference security would remove me." In a later tweet Rosa Maria reported that "Mr. Kirby asks me not to ask questions at John Kerry's press briefing or they would use force to expel me."

The United States Department of State in the space of  twelve years has gone from receiving a Cuban democratic opposition leader to threatening his daughter with force if she dared to ask a question at a press conference in which the Secretary of State John Kerry took questions with the Cuban dictatorship's Foreign Minister. The same dictatorship that martyred her father three years earlier.

This is what is now celebrated in many quarters as the "normalization of relations." Today, when  Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo attempted to present a letter to the Cuban embassy requesting her father's autopsy report she was not allowed to turn in the letter and a patrol car was called. Since 2012 the Payá family has been requesting Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's autopsy report from the dictatorship and has yet to be given a copy as they are entitled by law.

From being received by the Secretary of State in a private meeting following a petition drive signed by more than 20,000 Cuban nationals to being threatened with physical removal from the State Department for wanting to ask a question at a press conference the moral stature of the United States government has diminished drastically. Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo in a tweet summed up this new reality perfectly:  "I didn't think I would receive in the State Dept the same kind of coercive warning security at the Panama airport gave me."

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