Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Oswaldo Payá and his legacy of life and liberty

"We say that what you have to do is give the vote to the Cuban people." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, 2011

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas: martyred icon of nonviolence
Today marks four years and seven months since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante died under circumstances that point to an extrajudicial killing carried out by the Castro regime's intelligence services. It will also mark the presentation of the the first Oswaldo Payá Liberty and Life Prize in Havana in an event organized by the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy and the Cuban citizen initiative Cuba Decide. This award ceremony will recognize both Mr. Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States and, in a posthumous manner, Don Patricio Aylwin with an honorable mention that was to be received in his name, by his daughter, the former member of parliament and former Chilean minister, Mariana Aylwin. However the Castro regime denied her entry to Cuba at the last moment.

Nevertheless the ceremony will take place Wednesday, February 22, at 11:00 am at the Payá residence located at: 221 Peñón Street, between Ayuntamiento St. and Monasterio St in Havana, Cuba. This is taking place amidst a massive state security operation that seeks to silence Rosa María Payá shutting off her cell phone and limiting her internet access. The dictatorship has even generated an international crisis refusing for the first time to allow a former Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, to enter Cuba. Independent journalists and activists on the island have been detained or denied access to transportation in order to impede their covering or attending the award ceremony in Havana. These tactics are not new and have been applied to other activists such as the Ladies in White.

The question that arises observing all these regime machinations is why? Consider for a moment Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas never advocated violence, rejected hatred, organized a petition drive for democratic reforms that fell well within the legality of the Castro regime. Nevertheless, he was the victim of harassment, death threats, and an untimely death.

Why is the Castro regime behaving this way?
The answer is that paradoxically totalitarian regimes are quite resilient at confronting and crushing a violent resistance, but nonviolent resistance and speaking truth to power are existential threats to that kind of dictatorship.

Oswaldo Payá spoke plainly about regime crimes such as the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre of July 13, 1994 and exposed the fake change being engineered by the Castro regime in 2011 and 2012 speaking truth to power. This is what the Castro dictatorship fears: a decent and plain spoken opposition leader that can inspire and mobilize Cubans with a message of justice and reconciliation:
"Let the silenced bells toll. But let them toll for all the victims of terror that in reality is only one sole victim: the Cuban people that without distinctions, suffers the loss of each one of their children." 
For decades the regime has sought to divide Cubans inside and outside of the island. It is a very old tactic that goes back millennia: divide and rule. Oswaldo Payá  shattered the artificial division recognizing that "Cubans in the Diaspora and those of us who live in Cuba, are one people, victims of the same oppressive regime and we have the same hope and the same claim to liberty."

Even in death they fear the power of his example and regime agents are scrambling now to do everything possible to minimize his legacy and erase Oswaldo Payá from Cuba's national memory, but the dictatorship is failing. The panic over this award ceremony is evidence of the regime's fragility, weakness and failure when confronted by the legacy of this nonviolent icon. Fidel Castro is dead and the regime must repress and terrorize in order to maintain the semblance of order and respect for the old tyrant. The current head of the Christian Liberation Movement, Eduardo Cardet, faces a three year prison term for speaking truth when he summed up the legacy of Fidel Castro as follows: “Castro was a very controversial man, very much hated and rejected by our people.”

What might happen today?  

My friend Mica Hierro of the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy offered a summary of three possible scenarios two days ago that on two counts seem remarkably optimistic and the one prescient with an exception:
This trip can have 3 results: 1) Cuba acts with authoritarian practices as always and tries to prevent the trip of Latin American politicians on the one hand and on the other, stops and threatens Cuban activists to prevent them from attending the awards ceremony. The event can not be done or at least not with all the guests as planned because the Government of Cuba violated the fundamental right of assembly. 2) The Cuban Government does not repress, does not threaten the guests neither foreigners nor Cubans and the meeting is carried out successfully. 3) The Cuban government is pleased with the visit of Almagro and takes advantage initiating the dialogue required for its reintegration to the OAS.
All evidence points to the first result outlined, but the practices are not authoritarian but totalitarian. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a correspondent for The Atlantic presented a classical definition of totalitarianism in his March 26, 2014 essay titled The Meaning of Totalitarianism:  
Strictly defined, a totalitarian regime is one that bans all institutions apart from those it has officially approved. A totalitarian regime thus has one political party, one educational system, one artistic creed, one centrally planned economy, one unified media, and one moral code. In a totalitarian state there are no independent schools, no private businesses, no grassroots organizations, and no critical thought.
Hannah Arendt, the political scientist who wrote the opus The Origins of Totalitarianism offered further insights into how totalitarian functions at a lecture in Oberlin College on October 28, 1954 and the abyss between authoritarianism and totalitarianism:    

“If we look at it as a form of government, it rests on two pillars: on ideology and on terror. It is no tyranny because tyranny is lawlessness and because it is content with the political sphere in the more narrow sense of the word.” ...“Authoritarianism in many respects the opposite of totalitarianism."
However when Oswaldo Payá stood up before the European Parliament in Strasbourg in December of 2002 and proclaimed: 
The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together’.
The opposition leader in this speech and by the example of his life rejected the product of terror which is fear and embraced the pursuit of truth that transcends shallow ideology. This is why the dictatorship still fears Oswaldo Payá  and these ideas because they threaten the very pillars of totalitarianism in Cuba.

Totalitarianism is rooted in death and subjugation and Oswaldo Payá advocated and embodied the opposite for a lifetime celebrating while at the same time defending life and liberty. Friends of freedom the world over should honor this man and share his writings because they remain relevant today.
"The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized."

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