About five hundred people accompanied the body of Oswaldo Payá to his final resting place in the Colon Cemetery. Family members, activists, Ladies in White, foreign correspondents and diplomats based on the island gathered at eleven in the morning. Dozens of dissidents traveled from the central and eastern provinces to the capital in Havana to say their last goodbyes to the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement.
Many of them remained throughout the night and into the morning hours, outside the Parish of Our Saviour of the World where they kept watch on Payá’s body. Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino at eight o’clock, before the coffen left for the cemetery. Those present broke into an emotional applause as the coffin left the Catholic Church, carried through the crowd outside composed of Payá’s followers, the church’s neighbors, plainclothes police and uniformed traffic control officers.
As the funeral procession left the church, several activists were arrested, including Guillermo Fariñas who, like Payá, was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
The funeral procession moved – at high speed – along the central avenues to the city’s main cemetery, with the car windshields displaying a photo of the recently deceased government opponent. Among those present, many wore T-shirts with his face, and formed the letter L – for Liberty – with thumb and index finger. This gesture is the symbol of the Christian Liberation Movement, representing its demands for freedom.
The entire day was marked by the same emotion which, on Monday, had suffused the neighborhood parish that was home to the creator of the Varela Project. His daughter, Rosa María Payá spoke to the congregation in the church to assure them that the family will appeal to justice.
“We do not seek revenge, but we thirst for the truth,” said the visibly saddened young woman, accompanied by her two brothers. Ofelia Acevedo, Oswaldo Payá’s widow, also read a brief statement from the Christian Liberation Movement about the continuity and preservation of the work of her late husband.
The parish pews were crowded and the aisles packed, to the point that it was nearly impossible to move. Among those present were many nuns and members of the Catholic hierarchy. In the words of one of them, “Payá is being honored like a head of state, at least in the popular affection being shown to him during his farewell.”
Today, in a humble family vault, lie the remains of a man who was the most promising leader of the Cuban dissidence. Without a doubt, this is a hard blow to the country’s democratic forces, and opens many questions about the future of the opposition movement. Nevertheless, Oswaldo Payá’s funeral has been a show of unity for the country’s growing civic movements.
Crying, shaking, praying in front of his coffin, were the faces of all his fellow travelers, even those whose programs diverge significantly from those of the Christian Liberation Movement. The pain brought together in one place, and around a single figure, those who, more than once, had distanced themselves due to political and programmatic differences.
The great challenge will be to maintain the convergence achieved in these two days of formal mourning.
Throughout Oswaldo Payá’s wake and funeral an intriguing question has been making the rounds of those present. One that scrutinizes that accidental character of the incident where he lost his life, along with the young Harold Cepero, and that also resulted in injuries to two foreigners, citizens of Spain and Sweden.
While many insist on pointing to the repressive forces as the cause of the crash, others prefer to wait for the testimony of the two tourists to come to light. Meanwhile, the surveillance and threats continue, raising more doubts about what happened. However, the police investigation has just begun, and the two survivors will be key pieces in clarifying what transpired.
For now, in a small tomb in Christopher Columbus Cemetery in Havana, rests the body of a person whose peaceful struggle marked the most recent history of Cuba.
24 July 2012