Oswaldo Payá, Rest in Freedom / Yoani Sánchez

Oswaldo Payá (1952 – 2012)

No one should die before reaching their dreams of freedom. With the death of Oswaldo Payá (1952 – 2012), Cuba has suffered a dramatic loss for its present and an irreplaceable loss for its future. It was not just an exemplary man, a loving father and a fervent Catholic who stop breathing yesterday, Sunday, but also an irreplaceable citizen for our nation. His tenacity shone forth since I was a teenager, when he chose not to hide the scapulars — as so many others did — and instead publicly acknowledged his faith. In 1988 his civic responsibility was forged in the founding of the Christian Liberation Movement, and years later in the initiative known as the Varela Project.

I remember — as if it were yesterday — the image of Payá outside the National Assembly of People’s Power on that March 10, 2002. The boxes filled with over 10,000 signatures in his arms, while he delivered them to the infamous Cuban parliament. The official answer would be a legal reform, a pathetic “constitutional mummification” that would tie us “irrevocably” to the current system. But the dissident of a thousand and one battles was not dissuaded and two years later he and another group of activists presented 14,000 more signatures. With them they demanded that a referendum be called to allow freedom of association, expression, and the press, economic guarantees, and an amnesty that would free the political prisoners. With the disproportion that characterized it, Fidel Castro’s government answered with the imprisonments of the Black Spring of 2003. Over 40 members of the Christian Liberation Movement were sentenced in that fateful March.

Although he was not arrested at that time, for years Payá suffered the constant surveillance of his home, arbitrary arrests, repudiation rallies and threats. He ever missed a chance to denounce the prison conditions of some dissident, or another wrongful conviction. I never saw him break down, or yell, or insult his political opponents. The great lesson he left us is his equanimity, pacifism, putting ethics above differences, the conviction that through civic action and through legal action, an inclusive Cuba is closer to us. Rest in peace, or better still, rest released.

23 July 2012