EFE/14ymedio, Havana, 8 March 2017 — The Oswaldo Payá prize was presented this Thursday, in a symbolic way, to the IDEA initiative, after Cuba refused entrance on Wednesday to the presidents of Colombia, Andres Pastrana, and of Bolivia, Jorge Quiroga, who came to receive the award in an act seen by the Government of the Island as a “provocation.”
Pastrana and Quiroga were to receive, on behalf of the Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas (IDEA) — an organization made up of 37 former heads of State and Government — the prize that bears the name of the late dissident Oswaldo Payá (1952-2012), which was first awarded last year by the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, directed by Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late opponent.
In the absence of a reaction from the government, the official press, which frequently serves as a state platform to publicize its position, emphasized on Thursday that the presidents knew in advance that they were not welcome in Cuba, and they were intending to participate in what the press called a “failed anti-Cuban provocation forged from Washington.”
“Only a dictatorship feels provoked by the fact that two democratically elected ex-presidents would come to receive an award for their work in favor of democracy, invited by free citizens of that country,” said Rosa María Payá in the symbolic award ceremony at his family home, where none of the international invited guests were able to be present.
According to Payá, at least six guests — among them IDEA legislators and former presidents, as well as the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro — tried to travel to Cuba, but were not able to enter the country, or to board their planes or even to obtain a visa.
Within the Island there were also people who were not able to attend the event. The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, told 14ymedio that he woke up this Thursday with police surrounding his house to prevent him from attending the award ceremony. A text message from his mobile phone had previously been sent inviting several people to the ceremony.
About twelve people were able to attend the event, among whom were diplomats from the US Embassy in Havana and also from the Czech Republic. The activist Iliana Hernández, the opposition Librado Linares, former prisoner of the so-called Black Spring, the blogger Lía Villares and Sayli Navarro, an activist of the CubaDecides initiative, also attended despite the measures taken by State Security.
Agents were also stationed outside the home of Iliana Hernandez but the activist was able to deceive them to get to the event by car.
Payá, promoter of the dissident group CubaDecides — which is part of the Latin American Network — explained that the award to IDEA is for its to its “direct action” for the rights of the Venezuelan people and to spread democracy in Latin America, which has seen a “setback” in recent years due to the “interference of the Cuban regime, especially in Venezuela.”
“Ending the threat that the Cuban intelligence system and Castroism represents for democracy throughout the continent is an urgent task that begins with supporting democracy in Cuba,” said Payá, speaking about CubaDecides, which demands a binding plebiscite on the Island to change the political system and achieve “free, fair and plural elections.”
Despite not being able to attend the award ceremony in Havana, Pastrana sent a message of thanks in which he expressed the commitment of the former presidents who are members of IDEA to join with the Latin American youth of the Network to “continue fighting to defend and promote the democracy.”
In this second edition of the “Oswaldo Payá: Freedom and Life Award,” the Venezuelan opposition leader Antonio Ledezma — exiled in Madrid for months — received a special mention and also sent a message of gratitude that was read this Thursday at the event.
The former mayor of Caracas explained the reasons for his absence in Havana: “In my case, the guardians of the Venezuelan regime would have turned me over to their cronies to submit me again to the torture of a rigged judicial process.”
Luis Almagro, who was recognized with the Payá Prize last year in his first edition, was also unable to attend that year’s event, when the Cuban authorities denied him permission to enter the Island.
This year he again asked for a visa, but as of Wednesday he had not received a response, so he chose not to travel to Cuba, although he also sent a message to the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, in which he praised its work for freedom and human rights.
“The worst form of interventionism that exists in the international community is to give impunity to a dictatorship, to silence the voice of the people, to prevent them from deciding their future, and revolutionaries or leftists do not do this,” said Almagro.
In his opinion, “the left that is a reference is the one that faced dictatorships demanding the rights of the people,” while accusing the Government of having “stripped its citizens” of the fundamental principles of freedom and independence that their independence heroes defended.
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