When an Opponent Dies / Rafael Rojas, Voices Magazine

This past Sunday, July 22, Cubadebate, the Cuban Communist Party’s digital page Cubadebate published a police blotter style note in which was reported an auto accident in the eastern city of Bayama, which an individual of the name Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, “resident of Havana,” had lost his life. This was all the information Cubadebate offered to it readers. Not even on the day of his death could the Cuban government concede to Payá the rank of dissident or opponent.

A few hours later, on the Facebook page of the same Cuban Communist Party, there appeared a doctored photo of Payá in which instead of holding the portrait of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, also an opponent who died on a hunger striker in 2012, there was a sign that said “Oswaldo Payaso” (Oswaldo Clown), and above an identification of the Catholic leader as “gusano” (worm). These epithets evidenced what the Cubadebate note did not say — out of hypocrisy more than reality — which was that Payá was not a dissident nor an opponent, but a “worm” and a “clown.”

Payá showed a tenacity and consistency unusual within the Cuban opposition. Since the late 80s, when he created the Christian Liberation Movement, he proposed to peacefully defend the freedoms of association and expression for all Cubans, supported by the laws of the Socialist State itself. More than a decade later, in 2002, he presented to the National Assembly of People’s Power an initiative signed by 11,000 people demanding a referendum and constitutional reform.

That citizen demand, which was protected by the Constitutions of 1976 and 1992, was ignored by the authorities. In response, the government mounted its own initiative, which established the “irrevocable” character of socialism and entrenched still further the criminality of the opposition. The Varela Project gave Payá an extraordinary international visibility, which resulted in the award of the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament in 2002. In the spring of 2003, most of the members of his organization were imprisoned. Seven years later they were released in exchange for exile in Spain.

When an opponent dies, in any democracy, they put aside hatred and respect the dignity of the deceased. In a dictatorship like Cuba’s this doesn’t happen. The death of Payá has been grossly celebrated in various official Cuban media. Behind this irrational behavior lies the moral insecurity of those who cannot admit that an honest person, convinced of his ideas, would defend them with peaceful methods and within their own existing laws.

Originally published in La Razón. Reprinted in the independent digital magazine VOCES No. 16.