Tuesday, July 24, 2012

US hails Cuban dissident who died, supporters demand probe

US hails Cuban dissident who died, supporters demand probe

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Monday lauded Cuban dissident
Oswaldo Paya, killed in a weekend car crash, as a "tireless champion" of
human rights in the Americas' last Communist-run outpost.

Paya was the second key dissident to die within a year. Cuban officials
said he died in a car accident in the east of the island near Bayamo but
friends and relatives have demanded a full investigation into his death.

"The president's thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of
Oswaldo Paya, a tireless champion for greater civic and human rights in
Cuba," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"We continue to be inspired by Paya's vision and dedication to a better
future for Cuba, and believe that his example and moral leadership will
endure," the statement said.

"The United States will continue to support the Cuban people as they
seek their fundamental human rights."

Paya, a 60 year-old engineer and fervent Roman Catholic, founded the
Christian Liberation Movement, a group pressing for political change in

He won international attention in 2002 when, on the eve of a visit by
former US president Jimmy Carter, he presented Cuba's legislature with
more than 11,000 signatures in support for an initiative calling for
change in Cuba.

Cuba was then still run by Fidel Castro, and Paya's move was a bold,
landmark first confrontation between a citizen seeking wholesale change
-- economic and democratic -- from within the existing political system.

Paya won the European parliament's Sakharov prize for human rights later
that same year.

Yet his defiance of the Communist system did not bear fruit at home.

When Carter mentioned Paya's project in a speech on Cuban state
television, most Cubans, in a country with only official media, had
never heard of it.

The Cuban legislature ultimately rejected the initiative.

In Cuba, activist Ernesto Martini told AFP that Paya will be buried in
Havana on Tuesday. His wake was held Monday.

"Cuba has lost one of its most important voices of political dissent,"
said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Paya's death "is
profoundly heartbreaking and infuriating," and described him as "a man
of extraordinary courage, conviction, and peace."

Cuban authorities say Paya died when his rental car went off the road
and hit a tree on Sunday, roughly 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Bayamo.

Another Cuban, Harold Cepero Escalante, who was an activist with Paya's
group, was killed.

Two other men with them were injured -- Spaniard Angel Carromero Barrios
and Swede Jens Aron Modig, both 27. They did not immediately speak to media.

In Havana, Paya's relatives and supporters called for an investigation.

"The circumstances of the accident are not at all clear," the Christian
Liberation Movement told AFP in an e-mail signed by spokesman Regis

The group asked the "Cuban junta" to carry out a transparent probe.

Paya's daughter Rosa Maria said the family did not believe the death was
an accident, according to Miami-based Spanish-language newspaper El
Nuevo Herald.

"According to information we've obtained from people traveling with him,
there was a vehicle trying to force him off the road... We don't think
it was an accident," she said.

In Miami, many in the large Cuban-American community also questioned
Paya's death.

US Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban American mentioned as a potential Romney
running mate, said it is "critically important the international
community join those inside Cuba in pressuring the regime to be
forthcoming with the truth."

And Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Cuban-American head of the House Foreign
Affairs Committee, decried Paya's death as "an overwhelming loss to the
Cuban people and their struggle for democracy."

While the circumstances of the death were unclear, she charged that Paya
and his fellow pro-democracy dissidents "had been harassed by Cuban
state security authorities for decades."


No comments:

Post a Comment