Nelson Mandela was locked up on Robben Island. Andrei Sakharov was exiled to Gorky. Vaclav Havel was thrown into a Prague jail cell. Aung San Suu Kyi was repeatedly placed under house arrest. All of these courageous, dissident voices were muffled at some time by authoritarian regimes, but in the end, they found their way back to freedom. Oswaldo Payá [left] of Cuba never got that chance.
His daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, this week presented a petition signed by 46 activists and political leaders from around the world to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, calling for an international and independent inquiry into Payá’s death.
“Mounting and credible allegations that the Cuban government may have been complicit in the murder of its most prominent critic, a leading figure in the human rights world, cannot go ignored by the international community,” said the appeal, organized by the UN Watch human rights NGO.
“After Mr. Payá’s death, the White House paid tribute to him, saying, ‘We continue to be inspired by Payá’s vision and dedication to a better future for Cuba, and believe that his example and moral leadership will endure,’” the Post notes:
When pro-democracy activists were arrested and beaten at his funeral, the White House again spoke up. But in the past week, since Mr. Carromero’s interview was published, the administration has not uttered a word. What if it had been Sakharov, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mandela or Havel who was run off the road? Would it have said nothing?
“At this critical juncture, with new information at hand, the United States ought not to be complicit in silence about who killed Oswaldo Payá,” the Post concludes.
In 2002, Payá initiated the Varela Project, a mass petition calling on Cuba’s Communist authorities to guarantee constitutional rights. He was killed alongside fellow activist Harold Cepero in a car crash in July. The car’s driver, Spanish rights advocate Ángel Carromero, was imprisoned on charges of vehicular homicide, but released to Spain in December. He told the Washington Post last week that the car was hit by a vehicle with official license plates.
Shortly after the crash, Payá’s widow, Ofelia Acevedo, said that a survivor of the crash had sent text messages from his cell phone reporting that the car crashed after it was repeatedly rammed by another vehicle.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo yesterday told Berta Soller, the leader of the dissident Ladies in White, that the European Union will continue its tough “common position” toward the Communist regime:
Garcia-Margallo offered Spain’s help in a “transition” to democracy in Cuba, drawing on the Iberian nation’s return to representative government after the 1975 death of dictator Francisco Franco, the dissident said.
The latest revelations regarding Payá’s death appear to confirm suspicions of foul play voiced at the time of the crash by his fellow dissidents and democracy advocates.
The regime targeted Payá because he “crossed a red line in challenging the government’s relations with the church, which had become a pillar of the government’s strategy of survival…. at a time when the regime, emboldened by the cardinal’s silence at the mass arrests during the pope’s visit to Cuba in March, was not about to tolerate criticism,” said the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman:
Visiting Bayamo with foreigners — the two survivors of the crash were fellow Catholics from Spain and Sweden — crossed another red line. The city is the center of the cholera outbreak in the eastern part of Cuba, and for the regime, the disease is not just a medical problem but also an economic and political threat. ….The spread of the disease also challenges Cuba’s self-image as a medical superpower and could arouse anger in citizens who believe that sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela and other countries detracts from the care they receive at home. The fact that Bayamo has experienced labor unrest the past two years and was a rebel stronghold during Cuba’s war of independence against Spain and the uprising against Batista further arouses the regime’s anxiety.
“He had said they were going to kill him. And this was the third accident he had this year,” charged Martha Beatriz Roque, a well-known dissident economist.
The Communist regime had a further incentive to remove Paya, said analysts.
“What really distinguished him was that unlike almost all the others, he engaged in retail politics,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba expert with the Lexington Institute. “His Varela Project stands out as the only initiative of its time that enlisted citizen participation on a large scale. No one else did that, before or since.”