14YMEDIO, 22 July 2014 – On 22 July 2014, the opposition leader Oswaldo Payá and the activist Harld Cepero died. Payá led the Christian Liberation Movement and promoted the Varela Project, which managed to collect some 25,000 signatures to demand a national referendum. Freedom of expression, of association, freedom of the press and of business, as well as free elections, were some of the demands of that document signed by thousands of Cubans.
Nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Payá was one of the most visible and respected figures of the Cuban opposition. In 2002 the European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights by and he was able to tour several countries to offer information about the situation on the island. He was also an official candidate for the Prince of Asturias Award and received honorary degrees from Columbia University and the University of Miami.
Paya’s death occurred in the vicinity of the city of Bayamo, while he was traveling accompanied by the Spaniard Angel Carromero, the Swede Aron Modig, and his colleague Harold Cepero. The Cuban government explained the death as the result of a car accident, but his family and many Cuban activists have maintained their doubts about that version. An independent investigation into the events of that tragic July 22 has been requested in various international forums, but Cuban authorities have not responded to those requests.
On the second anniversary of the death of Oswaldo Payá, we asked activists who shared his democratic ideals, “What is the greatest legacy of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement?”
Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and the winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize
The main legacy left by Oswaldo Payá Sardinas for the Cuban nation, beyond its geographical boundaries, was that he showed his people and the world that the Cuban government breaks its own laws. When the Varela Project submitted almost 25,000 signatures to the People’s Assembly on a citizens’ petition for a plebiscite, the Cuban government refused to hold one and in a crude way changed the Constitution. That in my opinion was his main contribution: demonstrating that the Cuban government is beyond anything that could be construed as the Rule of Law and that it does not even respect its own draconian laws that support Castro’s totalitarian state.
Manuel Cuesta Morúa, promoter of Constitutional Consensus
I see the legacy of Oswaldo Paya in his pioneering activity to demonstrate that it was possible to generate civic trust towards democratic change. Even he had many doubts that the public would respond positively, would commit itself to a proposed change, especially at a time like the 90s and early 2000s when it was even more difficult for the civic movement. That’s what he sowed, what he left as a legacy, which demonstrated this as a future possibility for all pro-democracy activists on the island.
Dagoberto Valdés, director of the digital magazine Convivencia
First we recall our brother Oswaldo Paya with much love and affection and I would especially emphasize the future, in his legacy, the legacy he has rendered to all Cubans and so I think of the three gifts he left us. First, his posture, his civic attitude. He was a citizen who forged this society and who knew how to awaken a consciousness to fight for democracy in a peaceful way, and from there came his second contribution. Oswaldo was a man who fought tirelessly throughout his life with peaceful methods without being provoked or coming to violence. Finally—I have to say it—as someone who is also a Christian: he was a man who understood that religion could not be alienated or be divorced from the reality in which he lived, and that was why he was deeply committed as a Christian to work for democracy in Cuba.
Jose Conrado Rodriguez Alegre, Catholic priest
Oswaldo has left us a legacy full of sincerity and honesty; a love sacrificed for his country and a genuine commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel embodied in social life, in political life, in the good of others, everything that has to do with society as such. His was a radical commitment to the gospel, but at the same time, as it should be, to every human being. In remembering him, we must pay tribute to the man he was in every dimension, while we feel the pain of the brother we lost and we ask God that there be many others like him, men who can give their lives for others, in silence, in humility, in the midst of the misunderstandings of men, but certainly with a total commitment and a quality of life that today illuminates the existence of those of us still here.
José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)
There is no doubt that the late Oswaldo Payá left an everlasting impression. We remember him as a determined and courageous Cuban who, from an early date, assumed the method of nonviolent struggle with the intention of bringing Cuba the rights and freedoms that we have lacked for half a century. The work of the Christian Liberation Movement set a tone in peaceful actions in favor of the fair, free, democratic and prosperous Cuba that we all want, this was the side he was on.
The Varela Project, the citizen initiative launched by Oswaldo in which so many of us became involved full-time, also set a tone in the actions of the fighters for democracy. Initially, there were more than 11,000 people, in complex and difficult circumstances, circumstances that were against those who collected signatures and against those who signed that citizen petition. The fact that for the first time so many Cubans defended a proposal, putting their names and identity data, supporting the five points that made up the project, it was a real milestone.
Personally Oswaldo was a great friend with whom I shared both difficult and happy moments. We are very mindful of that. The Cuba Democratic Union (UNPACU) will render the homage he deserves on this second anniversary of his tragic death.
Today, from 6:45 PM (Havana time) there will be the premiere of a documentary about Oswaldo Paya of the Varela Hall of Ermita de la Caridad in Miami, Florida. The video can also be viewed simultaneously on www.vocesdecuba.com.
Rosa Maria Paya has continued to present herself before this and other international forums to denounce the reality, request support to foster democracy, and ask for a serious investigation to reveals the real reason for the death of her father and her friend Harold Cepera.
Cuban officials say that these two Cubans died in a “traffic accident,” though the two foreigners who accompanied them lived: the Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig (who was asleep at the time of impact and who then lived eight days of Kafkaesque detention in Havana ) and the Spanish Angel Carromero (who was convicted in Cuba of involuntary manslaughter, and who from his own country is demanding an international inquiry into what he considers a State Crime).
The two foreigners were isolated and coerced by the State Security. There are witnesses who saw these 4 people enter the hospital alive, but the only “investigation” allowed was undertaken by the dictatorship itself, which more than once had threatened to kill Paya, and whose version the Spanish government validates. Rosa Maria, and many others of us, are convinced that a shadowy operation was still waiting, like so many other manufactured horrors, for the answer will never be admitted by the Castro government .
I share this video of Rosa Maria Paya at the UN against the complicity of this organism with the dictatorship:
… We must announce to Cubans that their lives, their dignity and their freedom belong to them and that no one, not Caesar, can take these things from them if they don’t give in because of fear or other reasons.
Oswaldo Paya Sardinas
Inspired by these ideas, our Christian Liberation Movement was founded 25 years ago. Born to defend the rights of all Cubans and to promote the full liberation of the person leading to the development of society.
We want to serve, we are convinced that in Cuba the changes that the people want will only occur if the majority of Cubans, freeing themselves from the culture of fear, take a liberating step to reclaim their lives. The law should guarantee the right to do away with the simulation generated by an oppressive system, like the totalitarian regime that prevails in our country. We are part of the same people, those who live inside and outside the archipelago;we are not trying to speak for a people, we are working for citizens to have a voice.
Liberation demands its right and the right of Cubans to know the truth; an independent investigation is required to make public the circumstances under which died our leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero died, after an attack on 22 July 2012.
The dialogue that we are proposing is inclusive, where we are all represented, and in an atmosphere of trust that only respect for the law and the practice of fundamental rights can guarantee. We condemn the “Fraud Change” and the false dialogue that excludes and discriminates against those who do not submit, tools that the regime seeks to impose to preserve absolute power and control of the resources belonging to all Cubans. We demand transparency for Cuba and call on Cubans one and all to claim and build this path of changes.
Liberation with the opposition diverse and united in the Camino del Pueblo (the Way of the People), promotes a plebiscite for the sovereign people to decide the changes. Only when citizens can choose their government in free and multiparty elections, can we talk about Cuba having inexorably begun real democratic changes. So today we demand, within the history of thousands of Cubans who propose legal initiatives through a referendum, a referendum to restore the sovereignty of the people
All Cubans, all brothers, and now freedom.
Coordinating Council, Christian Liberation Movement
September 8, 2013
Note: I published this a year ago and have nothing to say I didn’t say them, I have reposted the text (on the anniversary of his death).
Still dazed and in shock I compose these words to Oswaldo. When I started to get the first messages about Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas’s death they were showing the film “War Horse,” and in one of the scenes a soldier leaves his foxhole to save his charger and before the imminence of his death he is praying parts of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” as if nothing should be lacking now to someone who is and well be a man-bridge, man-dialog, man-country.
The messages clogged my phone with the hashtag #OswaldoPayá and the mention ©OswaldoPaya. The questions of friends from every corner of the island and of the world. The police cordon at the hospital in Bayama, the details of the fatal incident, the doubts of a witness about a supposed police chase, the construction crews in the middle of the road on the El Naranjo curve. The questions. The answers. The words. The damn words.
It’s difficult to think of Payá and not go back to the now well-known EFE Agency photo where he, Antonio Díaz Sánchez and Regis Iglesia, on that 10th of May 2012, are approaching the site of the National Assembly of People’s Power to deliver the 11,025 signatures of citizens who supported the Varela Project.
There was the map of tomorrow’s Cuba. I say that because now the faces of the three blend together for me with those of hundreds of anonymous opponents, without a visible mark for the “mass media” merrymaking, those who gave birth to and collected these desires.
The most insignificant of the Cuban dissidents saw pass through their hands a form, a copy, or a summary of the range of strategies that Payá wanted to tune into so that Cuba would be different. Along with virtues, defects and contradictions, there was his greatness. The Cuban regime had to move, in an acrobatic high-wire act to the people to amend those articles that gave a glimpse of freedom and that were a dead letter in the Constitution until Oswaldo Payá grabbed hold of them.
The Varela Project was a lever that moved the country
I think of Payá, but also of Osmel Rodríguez (The Chinaman Manicaragua), of Ezequiel Morales and Juan Carlos Reyes Ocaña, of the Ferrer-García brothers and of the hundreds of Cubans who armed with courage went out through our dark country to seek signatures for the Varela Project, to spark the desire to be free or to dream with this treasure that is freedom.
I didn’t support all of Payá’s initiatives, and for this I won his friendship. The first time we met he listened to my arguments without interruption. In 2007 he invited me to review the draft of something he’d been “cooking up” for months and I still appreciate that gesture, that cunning to get me to participate. From that time he called me and I him.
The first close people who talked to me about him were Father Olbier Hernández and Deacon Andrés Tejeda who described him as a contradictory being, helpful, a rebuilding. They and the way in which the former American president Jimmy Carter in some way presented him on that day in 2002* in the Great Hall of the University of Havana depicted the face of Payá Sardiñas in the tapestry of an inclusive Cuba for everyone. It will come, we will have to find it together.
*Translator’s note: Jimmy Carter was allowed to address the Cuban people on live TV and took the opportunity to praise Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project.
22 July 2013
The young woman speaking in the video is Rosa Maria Paya, Oswaldo Paya’s daughter.
The Washington Post has published a lengthy interview with the Spaniard Angel Carromero where he details the events leading up to the crash that killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, and what transpired afterwards.
The assassins always return to the scene of the crime.
Today I feel ashamed to be Cuban and that a Cuban coward can behave so criminally against another Cuban now incapable of defending himself, thanks to the “democratic security forces labor” of other Cubans.
All this is just proof that the truth is about to come out.
And that more good blood of innocent Cubans and Europeans will run.
February 28 2013
On July 22, 2012, after years of death threats against my father, which had become more frequent and intense in the previous months, and after a dubious traffic accident in which my parents almost lost their lives, my mother received a telephone call from Madrid that we will never forget. Reglis Iglesias informed us that something had happened to our friends and companions. Some minutes later we received a text message that said the car in which they were traveling had been rammed and knocked off the road, that there were three people in the hospital and the fourth had disappeared. Some hours later we learned that my father and Harold were dead.
Later we heard the testimonies of people who were in the hospital where they took the survivors and hearing the reading of the first notes taken by the police from witnesses, from the mouth of Captain Fulgencio Medina.
Later we read the Tweets published by Yohandry Fontana, which are on a Cuban government website.
We learned that:
- My father, Harold Cepero, Aron Modig, and Angel Carromero were being followed and monitored by Cuban government State Security from the time they began the trip in Havana.
2. There was at least one other car (a red Lada) traveling nearly parallel with the car in which my father was traveling, and the passenger in this Lada were on the scene of the events even before the arrival of the first of the official witnesses.
3. My father did not receive any medical help before he died and was taken to a hospital only after his death.
4. Harold Cepero Escalante was never taken to an operating room nor to intensive care.
5. They have been unable to prove that Angel Carromero was speeding.
Later we read the text messages of the the surviving foreigners and their friends in Madrid and Stockholm, and they will be published. Later we talked to Angel Carromero, the sole survivor with a full memory of the events and my family and the Christian Liberation Movement had communications Aron Modig and the people who were the recipients of the messages and calls for help from both survivors. We confirmed that:
1. It was not an accident.
2. The car my father, Harold, Aaron and Angel were riding in was intentionally hit from behind by another car, but this blow did not cause the death of any of the passengers.
3. None of the survivors recalled that the car spun around or crashed against any tree.
4. The two foreigners were immediately removed from the scene by men who arrived in another car.
We do not know what happened to my father and my friend, but a few hours later they were both dead. Our families, the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), our brothers in the struggle and our friends within and outside of Cuba have a right to know how they died and who is responsible for their deaths…
The data we have exposed, the government persecution under which we live in Cuba, and increased repression of the Cuban democracy movement, make me fear for the safety of everyone.
For years State Security directly threatened the life of my father and now pursues and threatens members of my family and of MCL. The Cuban government is responsible for the physical integrity of our two families and the activists of our movement.
My father and Harold dedicated and gave their lives for a peaceful change to bring reconciliation, rights and well-being to our people. This reconciliation requires the recognition of all truth, and forgiveness and good will from its actors. This is the truth we seek and we will not cease until we find it, so we ask for the support of all institutions and people who can help bring about an international investigation into the probable murder of my father and Harold.
They are already in the presence of God and from there they light our way.
Published: February 28, 2013
There’s a little explosion of free publishing projects inside cuba.
February 25 2013
Nice! Rosa Maria Paya in her blog.
Cuban journalism is too important to be left in the hands of Cuban journalists.
Rosa Maria Payá hands a treat to the salaried employees of the International Press Center in Havana, whining cowards who don’t know how to read freely and without fear what there is to read.
January 13 2013