Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and the arc of the moral universe

"I have not lost faith. I'm not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven't lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." - Martin Luther King Jr., Ebenezer Baptist Church April 30, 1967

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante
Two extrajudicial killings on July 22, 2012
Today marks two years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were last seen alive before a car crash at 1:50pm Eastern Standard Time on July 22, 2012 on  a Sunday afternoon involving a second vehicle driven by Cuban state security. The moment that I learned what happened is burned into my memory as if it had just happened.  Over the past two years the Payá family and members of the Christian Liberation Movement have sought through all channels available to push for an international investigation into the deaths of these two activists.

The Washington Post editorial board on the eve of the two year anniversary published what is now known publicly:
The car spun out of control after being rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing state license plates, according to Mr. Carromero. While he and the associate from Sweden survived, Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero were killed. Mr. Carromero says he was then coerced to confess and subjected to a rigged trial in order to cover up what really happened. Mr. Carromero’s videotaped “confession,” broadcast on television, was forced upon him; he was told to read from cards written by the state security officers. He was sentenced to four years in prison for vehicular homicide and later released to return to Spain to serve out his term.
The cover up of this extrajudicial killing carried out by the Cuban state security service has crumbled and eventually a regional or international human rights body will produce a credible and independent report on the events that transpired on July 22, 2012 and hold the Cuban government responsible.  The facts surrounding what happened is in the public domain. It is only a matter of time before it is legally analyzed and judged on the merits. Respected international leaders, Nobel prize winners Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa among them, have called for an international investigation.

It won't be the first time. 

"13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre investigated
Nine days ago the world marked twenty years since the attack and sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat on July 13, 1994 that claimed 37 lives.  There was an investigation on the merits. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in a report released on October 16, 1996 concluded that what transpired that early morning “was not an accident but rather a premeditated, intentional act” by agents of the Cuban government and held the Cuban State responsible for violating the right to life of the 37 people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo", which events occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast on July 13, 1994. 

Nevertheless two decades later the men responsible, despite being identified, have not been held accountable in a court of law.

Brothers to the Rescue shoot down investigated
Three years later the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on September 29, 1999 released a report on the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down concluding that: " Cuba is responsible for violating the right to life (Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) to the detriment of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre, who died as a result of the direct actions of its agents on the afternoon of 24 February 1996 while flying through international airspace." The Cuban state lost a civil judgement to the families of the victims in the U.S. courts and a Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez arrested in 1998 was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder for his role in the shoot down. 

Nevertheless the men who gave the orders and pressed the trigger that blew to civilian planes out of the sky have yet to be held accountable in a court of law 18 years later.

Paying homage and remembering
In the mean time Cubans and friends of freedom from around the world are remembering the legacy of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. Masses are being organized in Havana, Madrid and Miami to give thanks for their lives and a nonviolent legacy that continues to demonstrate that love is stronger than hate.  Across social media people of goodwill are making the sign of Liberation and displaying two candles in memory of Oswaldo and Harold. 
Image taken from the Christian Liberation Movement

Impunity breeds more violence
Despite the harassment and death threats against the Payá family that forced them to seek refuge in exile and rising repression, including machete attacks, against members of the Christian Liberation Movement - the movement has continued on the island to carry on Oswaldo's legacy of nonviolent resistance. The Payá family and the Christian Liberation Movement in the diaspora have continued together to support their counterparts in Cuba and lead the struggle for justice for Oswaldo and Harold.

Justice delayed but achieved is still justice
 It is said that justice delayed is justice denied and where a statue of limitations is involved that may be true, but when it comes to murder only a few countries such as Colombia and until recently Japan have an end date to pursue murderers. Cuba does not have such a provision. Breaking the cycle of impunity with justice is itself a good that can also reduce violence.

In the case of the Czech Republic one of the most notorious cases that of  Milada Horakova who was hanged with three others in Prague’s Pankrac Prison as a spy and traitor to the Communist Czechoslovakian government on June 27, 1950 following a show trial, saw the prosecutor who presided over it placed on trial for murder 57 years later, found guilty and jailed in a fair trial. 

The arc of the moral universe
Reverend King is right "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." History has already condemned these crimes and it is highly probable that a court of justice will eventually do so as well. Keep the faith, do not despair, and continue to show your solidarity with victims of repression.

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