Payá Yes, Bishops No / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

World: Death on the island

The death of Oswaldo Paya in Cuba has impacted the dissidence and sowed suspicion. This is the story and tribute from a Cuban writer and photographer from the ranks of the opposition.

By Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, from Havana 26/07/2012

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (1952-2012) has died like they kill the dissidents on the island: in a spirit fired by paranoia against State Security, a residue of the Cold War that operates above Cuban law and perhaps the divine as well. He has died with condolences signed by everyone from the White House to the Vatican, but with the Stalinist stigma of “enemy of the people” in the State press — the only press legal in Cuba — plus a campaign of vulgar insults on government web pages.

His wake was a bath of masses in an open church over two days, overwhelmed by shouts of “Freedom!” applause and tears. One of the masses, before the diplomats accredited in Havana, was offered by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, much criticized lately for his distancing from pro human rights activists and his ever more complacent collusion with General Raúl Castro.

All made sacred by the intimate and public grief of his widow, Ofelia Acevedo, and their young children, now orphans: Reinaldo, Oswaldo and Rosa María, who read an allegation where she held the government responsible for the tragedy, demanded an impartial investigation, and denounced the death threats endured by the family. Weeks early, a car had rammed his car causing it to flip over, although that time Payá was unharmed.

During the wake and internment, the congregation was surrounded by a battalion of police and the mobs of the so-called Rapid Response Brigades, which eventually resulted in dozens of arrests.

Payá has died, with his Andrei Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament (2002) and his five nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The death of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and the author of civic renewal platforms such as the Varela Project, which gathered more than 25,000 national signatures for a constitutional referendum that was rejected by the Cuban government. He died in a traffic accident at noon on Sunday 22 July, on a road in Bayamo, east of the island.

Moments later, in the capital, his daughter received a terrifying phone call: according to the testimony of the survivors (the Spaniard Ángel Carromero Barrios and the Swede Jens Aron Modig), another vehicle had struck their rental car. Inexplicably, this time, only the Cubans riding in the back seat died (Payá and his young collaborator Harold Cepero), without the two foreigners suffering serious injuries.

Like every prophet, Payá didn’t manage to exercise his power in the promised country he was trying to found. Like every prophet, it will have to be his body that calls the citizenry to awaken.

July 27 2012