Monday, July 20, 2015

Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and their enduring legacy

Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves. - Harold Cepero Escalante, November 13, 2002

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero are no longer physically with us. Martyred on July 22, 2012 and their presence denied not only to their family and friends but also to a nation that needs their leadership. Nevertheless their words and deeds endure and remain relevant today and should be reflected on by democrats everywhere.

For example on October 29, 2009 Oswaldo Payá responded to the official narrative of the dictatorship's foreign minister in clear and bold terms that resonate after today's event at the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC:

Mr. Bruno Rodríguez, you have spoken in the United Nation’s General Assembly, using the language of the agents of the repressive forces, to offend those in Cuba who defend the dignity and rights of Cubans and those who are imprisoned for this cause. As a representative of a tyranny, you spoke unabashedly, with insulting and cynical phrases, against the Cuban people. 
The first and most insulting statement: "Cuba is a democracy. First it should be clarified that Cuba is all Cubans, and the government representatives that oppress it are by no means the voice of our people. In Cuba there is no democracy, there is a totalitarian regime where one group with power, that is not popularly supported or representative, denies the citizens and people at large their sovereign rights to choose and to decide, and their right to self determination.

Mr. Rodríguez also said: "Cuba respects the freedom to travel." It is only because the Cuban people have no voice that you are able to so greatly offend them with such cynicism. In Cuba , freedom to travel is not a right and the government that Rodríguez represents denies this right to the Cubans who live inside and outside the country, a policy that cruelly separates many families.
In the midst of the Cuban opposition leader's plain speaking on the nature of the government, the arbitrariness of foreign minister's appointed position but Oswaldo also offered to defend his rights as a human being:
Bruno Rodríguez, you are a mercenary to a government that pays you to justify to the world the oppression under which our people live! But as I did with Felipe Pérez Roque, I remind you that those who order you can place and remove you with one finger; but we are not ordered by anyone. And as we said to those that are now in disgrace, we say to you: We are ready to defend your rights as a human being when they throw you to the trash; if it is not before the Cuban people win their freedom and their rights, as will surely happen.
On February 23, 2010 Oswaldo Payá addressed the lack of solidarity for Cuban human rights defenders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo who had just died under suspicious circumstances after a long hunger strike in which regime officials refused him water contributing to his death:
We denounce all who are 'protagonists' in the official media and informally and their followers in the world of culture, with their repugnant lies and justifying silences, encourage and enable these crimes and greater crime suffered by the Cuban people.
We denounce all those governments and states in this continent and in the world together with the many institutions and persons that prefer a harmonious relationship with lies and oppression than to open solidarity with the Cuban people. All are complicit with what is happening and what will happen.
In a September 23, 2011 conversation which Oswaldo had his answers video recorded spoke on the continuing plight of political prisoners:
There are political prisoners in Cuba; the son of a member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) was sentenced to 12 years in jail for the sole reason of being the son of a MCL member. His name is Yosvany Melchor Rodriguez and he was artificially condemned in Santiago de Cuba on November 30, 2010, after his mother was threatened by state security forces for not wanting to cooperate against us.
 In the same interview he went on to challenge the conventional wisdom that the dissident movement is divided:
There is tremendous interest in saying that there is no dissident movement, that it is fragmented, divided, that it has no program. But that is false. That is what the government needs to sustain the idea of the conspiracy against the people of Cuba at this moment. Now that the military oligarchy, with the complicity of most states—European, North American and from Latin America—decide to give a vote of confidence to Raúl Castro. That’s why the dissident movement is so bothered, because we are saying that which is radical, and that is: Cuba continues to be a state of “no rights”, a state where citizens’ dignity is not respected and where the poor have no voice even to say they are poor.
Four months prior to his untimely death Oswaldo warned of the danger of a fraudulent change carried out by the dictatorship with the complicity of elements of the Cuban diaspora:
Our Movement denounces the regime's attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression. The Diaspora does not have to "assume attitudes and policies in entering the social activity of the island." The Diaspora is a Diaspora because they are Cuban exiles to which the regime denied rights as it denies them to all Cubans. It is not in that part of oppression, without rights, and transparency that the Diaspora has to be inserted, that would be part of fraudulent change. The gradual approach makes sense only if there are transparent prospects of freedom and rights. We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It's time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim. Changes that signifies freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight.
Three years have passed since Oswaldo and Harold's untimely deaths but their struggle for a real and nonviolent change in Cuba continues, their example and spirit live on.

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