Friday, July 22, 2022

Remembering Cuban opposition leaders, Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, both murdered by Castro regime on July 22, 2012

Cuba is a place where the government imprisons, forcibly exiles, or kills citizens who peacefully petition for change within the existing constitutional framework in defense of human rights.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante, two martyrs for democracy in the Americas, were killed on July 22, 2012 by Castro's secret police.

Oswaldo Payá was sixty years old at the time that he was murdered by agents of the Castro regime. He was a family man and lay Catholic from Havana, an engineer, who in September 1988 founded the Christian Liberation Movement with fellow Catholics in the neighborhood of El Cerro, and over the next 23 years would carry out important campaigns to support human rights and a transition to democracy in Cuba.He would speak out against human rights violations and demand dignity for victims, even if it meant criticizing the US for the mistreatment of Al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo Naval Base prison in 2002.

Oswaldo was a consistent defender of human rights.

Harold Cepero was 32 years old at the time he was killed together with Oswaldo. He was from the town of Chambas in Ciego de Ávila. At age 18, he began to study at the University of Camaguey, and in 2002, together with other students, Harold signed the Varela Project. It was an initiative that was legal within the existing Cuban constitution that had been authored by the Christian Liberation Movement.

Despite this, Harold and other students were expelled from the university for signing it and sharing it with others. The secret police would organize a mob to "judge", scream at, insult, threaten and expel the students who had signed the Varela Project. Following his expulsion on November 13, 2002, Harold wrote a letter in which he cautioned that "Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves."

Expelled from the university for signing the Varela Project together with other students. He entered a seminary and began studying to enter the priesthood, but left to join the Christian Liberation Movement and became a human rights activist. 

Harold was a seminarian who became a human rights defender.

On May 10, 2002, Oswaldo, along with Regis Iglesias and Tony Diaz Sanchez of the Christian Liberation Movement, turned in 11,020 Varela Project petitions, and news of the petition drive was reported worldwide.

Regis Iglesias and Tony Diaz Sanchez were sentenced to long prison sentences in March 2003 following show trials, along with 73 other Cuban dissidents. Many of them had taken part in the Varela Project and, nearly eight years later, were forced into exile as an alternative to completing their prison sentences.

In spite of the crackdown, Oswaldo would turn in another 14,384 petition signatures with Freddy Martini on October 5, 2003. He would spend the next eight years campaigning for the release of his imprisoned compatriots and continuing campaigns to achieve a democratic transition in Cuba.

Ten years, two months and twelve days after turning in the first Varela Project petitions while traveling with two international visitors in Eastern Cuba on a Sunday afternoon on July 22, 2012, Oswaldo and Harold were killed. Cuban state security bumped into the car they were driving, and when the vehicles stopped, with everyone still alive in the car, they approached the driver, striking him in the temple with the butt of a pistol. Within hours, the lifeless and brutalized bodies of both men would appear.

These are somber times with a pandemic raging across the world, killing millions, in part, due to the lack of transparency of the Chinese Communist Party. Thousands have died in Cuba from COVID-19, in part because of the decision of the Cuban Communists to highlight their domestic vaccines, waiting months to inoculate their populace while vaccines were being distributed across the rest of Latin America.
Oswaldo Payá, when awarded the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought on December 17, 2002, spoke prophetically when he said: "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."

In the midst of darkness, it is important to remember these points of light that give us hope and a path to freedom and improved human rights in Cuba, and around the world.

Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero, and others living and dead have laid the groundwork that made possible the nonviolent character of the mass nationwide protests that marked a new before and after in Cuban history on July 11, 2021. 

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