Monday, July 23, 2012

Cuban dissidents call for ‘transparent’ investigation of Oswaldo Payá’s death

Posted on Monday, 07.23.12

Cuban dissidents call for 'transparent' investigation of Oswaldo Payá's

The well-respected dissident and Harold Cepero Escalante, also a
dissident, died in a car crash Sunday in eastern Cuba. Payá's daughter
has questioned whether the crash was an accident.

The Christian Liberation Movement founded by human rights champion
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who died in a car crash along with fellow
dissident Harold Cepero Escalante, called on the Cuban military junta
Monday for a transparent investigation of their deaths.

It's still not clear what happened Sunday afternoon on a highway in
eastern Cuba as Payá, 60, who fought for human and civil rights in Cuba
for more than two decades, and Cepero, who was the movement's youth
leader, traveled in a rental car with two European companions who
received minor injuries.

The two international supporters were identified as Ángel Carromero
Barrios of Spain and Jens Aron Modig from Sweden. Spanish media reported
that Carromero is a leader of the Spanish Popular Party's youth
organization, Nuevas Generaciónes, and that Modig is president of the
Swedish Christian Democrat Youth League.

The Cuban government reported the rental car lost control and hit a tree
at 1:50 p.m. local time Sunday in La Gavina, a town about 14 miles
outside Bayamo, the capital city of Granma province.

But Rosa María Payá, the dissident leader's daughter, said their car was
struck by another vehicle. In a sound bite on Payá's official website,
she said, "The information we received from the boys in the car with him
is that a car was trying to push them off the road, ramming them at
every moment. So we think — we are convinced — that they wanted to harm
them and ended up killing my father."

In a statement Monday, the Christian Liberation Movement said "the
circumstances of these deaths have not been cleared up and are open to
hypothesis'' and it demanded a "transparent'' investigation.

In an unusual step, Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist
Party of Cuba, reported the deaths Monday on page 6 and said the crash
was under investigation.

The story called the incident "a regrettable traffic accident.''
Although it mentioned the victims by name, it described them simply as
"Cuban citizens.'' The article also said that according to eyewitnesses,
the vehicle went out of control and hit a tree.

The two injured men were treated at the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes
clinic, the article said. Spanish news agency EFE, citing sources, said
Carromero was the driver.

Ofelia Acevedo, Payá's widow, said the Christian Liberation Movement
"will continue its peaceful fight until all Cubans win the rights we
have by law. My husband dedicated his life to this ideal until the end.

"From eternity,'' she said, he will "encourage and accompany us until
truth and justice make our dear island an authentic home for all Cubans.''

Payá, who lived in Havana, was best known for his role in organizing the
Varela Project, a signature gathering campaign in support of a
referendum on laws to guarantee freedom of speech and other civil rights.

He won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize in 2002 and was
nominated more than once for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Payá delivered the first group of more than 11,000 signatures to the
National Assembly, Cuba's parliament, in 2002. Before the petition drive
was over, there were more than 25,000 names on the petition.

Many of the 75 dissidents who were jailed during the 2003 crackdown
known as Cuba's "Black Spring'' were involved with the Varela Project,
which took its name from Rev. Félix Varela, a priest revered for his
role in Cuba's independence fight against Spain.

Although authorities ignored the Varela Project petitions, the
government did launch its own petition drive that established the
socialist system as "irrevocable'' in the Cuban constitution.

Nevertheless, Payá continued his efforts at trying to mobilize Cubans to
demand their human rights. The same spirit guided him when he declared
himself a candidate for the National Assembly in 1992 — the first time a
dissident had publicly expressed a desire to run for such an office
during the Castro regime.

"The unexpected and tragic death of this human rights activist is
certainly a blow and a setback for Cuba's small civil society; yet, his
example and his courage will continue to inspire those both inside and
outside of Cuba who work and struggle for a peaceful but real transition
in Cuba to a democratic form of government in which both human rights
and the rule of law are protected,'' said Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski
in a statement.

"Oswaldo Payá was both a patriot and a committed Catholic layman: his
vision for Cuba was founded as much in Catholic social teachings as in
the thought of Felix Varela and Jose Marti,'' said Wenski, who met Payá
on several occasions.

A Mass in Payá's honor is scheduled for 8 p.m. Tuesday at Ermita de la
Caridad, known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Coconut Grove.
It will be celebrated by Father José Luis Menendez, pastor of Corpus
Christi Catholic Church in Miami.

Numerous dissidents gathered Monday at Payá's home and at the Church of
San Salvador in the Havana neighborhood of Cerro to pay tribute. A mass
to mark his passing was also scheduled in Madrid where the Cuban
Hispanic Foundation opened a book of condolences. Havana funeral
arrangements have not been released.

Miriam Leiva, a founding member of the Ladies in White dissident group,
and Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a dissident economist, issued a joint
statement that urged Cuban authorities to release Payá's body to his
family for "funeral honors corresponding to a personality respected not
only by the peaceful opposition but also by my many thousands of Cubans
who have supported Project Varela…" They too demanded exhaustive and
timely information from authorities on the circumstances of the
dissidents' deaths.

Payá was a man who answered to his own conscience. He did not accept
U.S. funds to support his work, opposed the U.S. embargo against Cuba,
and had a reputation of being somewhat aloof from other dissidents.

As word of Payá's death spread, fellow dissidents and people from around
the world eulogized him. Condolences poured in from the United States,
Spain and the European Union.

Payá, the White House said, was a "tireless champion" in "the nonviolent
struggle for freedom and democratic reform in Cuba."

"Cuba has lost one of its most important voices of political dissent and
strongest proponents of fundamental freedoms for the people of his
homeland. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his wife, Ofelia
Acevedo, and the entire family, which has lost a beloved husband and
father,'' said Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department.

"Mr. Payá will be remembered for his vision and dedication to a better
future for Cuba. His legacy will endure in the inspiration he provided
to the Cuban people and his admirers the world over."

Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called Payá "one of many heroes on
the island who has exposed the myths and failures of the Cuban
Revolution and challenged its habitual violation of human rights.

"As we try to learn more about the circumstances of Payá's death, it is
critically important that the international community join those inside
Cuba in pressuring the regime to be forthcoming with the truth,'' he
said in a statement. "We should insist that they be transparent in
answering all the questions about Payá's death. It's important that
anyone with knowledge about this car crash be protected and allowed to
share what they know."

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