Sunday, July 22, 2012

Oswaldo Paya: Cuban human rights defender dies under mysterious circumstances

"They have told me that they will kill me before this regime ends, but I will not flee." - Oswaldo Paya

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas: February 29, 1952 – July 22, 2012

Born in 1952, Oswaldo Paya became a critic of the communist government of Cuba in 1969 at age 17 and remained so for the rest of his life. He was a founding member and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. He had been warned by state security that he would not live to see the end of the Castro regime. He died this Sunday, July 22, 2012 in a "car accident" along with Christian Liberation Movement youth leader, Harold Cepero.

The Christian Liberation Movement (CLM )has issued a formal statement requesting a formal and transparent investigation. At the same time the CLM requests that all friends in solidarity with the freedom of Cubans maintain their alertness and support the demand for a proper investigation into the deaths of these activists. 

I was honored to have spoken with Oswaldo Paya on a couple of occasions and to have met many who walked the streets of Cuba with him gathering signatures for the Varela Project and who later became prisoners of conscience. Oswaldo was a good and decent man who sacrificed all for a free Cuba. News of his death is devastating both personally and for the free Cuba movement.

In December of 2002 following diplomatic pressure placed on the dictatorship by the European Union to permit him to travel abroad to receive the Sakharov Prize where he made an acceptance speech, of which the following is an excerpt:
We have not chosen the path of peace as a tactic, but because it is inseparable from the goal for which our people are striving. Experience teaches us that violence begets more violence and that when political change is brought about by such means, new forms of oppression and injustice arise. It is our wish that violence and force should never be used as ways of overcoming crises or toppling unjust governments. This time we shall bring about change by means of this civic movement which is already opening a new chapter in Cuba’s history, in which dialogue, democratic involvement, and solidarity will prevail. In such a way we shall foster genuine peace. Cuba’s civic combatant heroes – the ordinary people who have signed the Varela Project – carry no weapons. Not a single hand is armed. We walk with both arms outstretched, offering our hands to all Cubans as brothers and sisters, and to all peoples of the world.

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’. THIS IS THE LIBERATION WHICH WE ARE PROCLAIMING.

There are still those who perpetuate the myth that the exercising of political and civil rights is an alternative to a society’s ability to achieve social justice and development. They are not mutually exclusive. The absence of any civil and political rights in Cuba has had serious consequences such as inequality, the poverty of the majority and privileges of a minority and the deterioration of certain services, even though these were conceived as a positive system to benefit the people. In this way, although many Cubans have for years worked out of love and in good faith, the situation as regards civil and political rights is now serious, quite apart from a widening inequality and the deterioration in the quality of life of the majority of the population. Among other things, the freedom of action of the citizens of Cuba has been limited, which has neutralized their huge potential for creativity and productiveness and is the main reason for the country’s poverty.

This state of affairs cannot be justified by saying that the Cuban people have adopted this system out of choice. You all know that none of the peoples represented in this Parliament, and no people in the world, would ever give up the right to exercise their fundamental freedoms.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that well-being and economic and social progress are the fruits of being able to exercise one’s rights. In the same way, a democracy is not genuine and complete if it cannot initiate and sustain a process that raises the quality of life of all its citizens, because no people would freely vote for the kind of poverty and inequality that results in the masses becoming disadvantaged and marginalized. The peoples of Latin America are calling for a genuine democracy which will enable justice to be established. It is scandalous that methods intended to overcome a crisis and end poverty can be applied in the name of efficiency when in reality they threaten to obliterate the poor. I cannot claim to herald new positions or propose new models, but the people of Cuba have lived and suffered under various political and economic systems.

We now know that any method or model which purportedly aims to achieve justice, development, and efficiency but takes precedence over the individual or cancels out any of the fundamental rights leads to a form of oppression and to exclusion and is calamitous for the people. We wish to express our solidarity with all those who suffer from any form of oppression and injustice, and with those in the world who have been silenced or marginalized.

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. If there is no solidarity between people we will be unable to preserve a fair world in which it is possible to continue living as human beings. I therefore humbly believe that rather than new models, both for societies and for relations between countries, what we need is a new spirit.

 Oswaldo Paya returned to Cuba after this and continued the struggle for a free Cuba until this Sunday, July 22, 2012.

Following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010 Oswaldo addressed the murdered human rights defender in an open letter: "Orlando Zapata Tamayo, dear brother, we will continue the fight, without hatred, but determined that until Cuba is free and Cubans are no longer suffering this shameful humiliation that is to live subdued by fear to a lie."

The struggle for freedom in Cuba continues. Condolences for the family of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and prayers for them and him.

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