Tag Archives: Oswaldo Payá

The Cuban Regime’s Ongoing Violations of the Right to Life

Oral testimony by Maria Werlau, Cuba Archive´s Executive Director
for the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House
of Representatives, Washington, D.C., July 13, 2016

Today I will focus on the Cuban government’s continuing violations to the right to
life. To illustrate the extreme contempt for human life the Castro regime has
displayed from its inception, we need just recall three of its flagrant atrocities
that occurred on the month of July of different years.

In 1994, on a day like today, July 13th, a group of sixty-eight, including many
children, boarded a tugboat to escape to the U.S. Three boats were waiting for them
— alerted by infiltrators. With high-pressure water jets, they began ripping
children from their parents’ arms and sweeping terrified passengers off to sea.
Finally, they rammed and sunk the fleeing tugboat, drowning all those who had taken
refuge in the cargo hold. With survivors clinging to pieces of wreckage, the
pursuing boats circled around them, seeking to drown them with wave turbulence.
Thirty-seven perished, including eleven children.

Fourteen years earlier, on July 6th 1980, Cuban Navy boats and an Air Force plane
had attacked an excursion boat that toured the Canímar River of Matanzas loaded with
passengers and tried fleeing to the U.S. The exact number of victims is unknown, but
numbers in the dozens and included children.

Among hundreds of July victims of the Castros, two stand out. On July 22nd 2012,
Oswaldo Payá, arguably Cuba’s leading opposition figure, and Harold Cepero, a young
activist from his organization, were killed in a car accident believed to have been
caused by state agents.

These are just samples of the large-scale and growing tragedy the Cuba Archive
project, which I head, is documenting and for which the Cuban regime has not been
held accountable. To date, we’ve recorded over 6,100 deaths and disappearances
caused by the Castro regime not from combat situation. Each has a detailed record.
The victims include infants, pregnant women, the elderly, human rights’ defenders,
protestant pastors, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political prisoners, young men objecting to
military service, and anyone who gets in the way of the Castros. Also on the list
are 21 U.S. citizens executed, assassinated, or disappeared and 6 killed in
terrorist attacks sponsored or supported by Cuba. We know, sadly, that this count is
woefully lacking; what’s more, for it to be comprehensive, it would have to include
many more Cubans who’ve perished and extended to many countries where Cuba has
created, supported, and promoted war, subversion, and terrorism, as today in nearby
and Colombia. The human toll of the Castro dynasty is easily, in my view, several
hundred thousand and counting.

Things are not much better since Raúl Castro, until ten years ago the No. 2 man,
assumed supreme command in Cuba, replacing his brother Fidel. Since then and until
last December 31st, Cuba Archive has documented 264 cases of death and
disappearance, a count we know is very incomplete.

A particularly troubling aspect of the ongoing crimes of the Cuban regime relates to
the grave abuses committed by Cuban authorities against persons attempting to escape
the country. The attacks appear to have declined, in part because Cuba has perfected
a highly lucrative business from exporting people that welcomes most departures.
Yet, killings, beatings, torture, and other abuses perpetrated on those fleeing have
not stopped. To take just one example, on December 16th 2014, the day before
President Obama made his surprise announcement of normalized relations with Cuba, 32
year-old Liosbel Díaz disappeared after Cuban Boarder Guards sunk, reportedly in
international waters, the boat in which he was escaping with 31 other passengers,
including women and children.

What’s perhaps more egregious is the aberration of a tropical “Berlin Wall” at
Guantánamo, altogether overlooked by the free world. 26 years after the fall of the
infamous Berlin Wall, a deadlier replica now lasting twice longer stands in
Communist Cuba: barbed wire, minefields, watchtowers, ferocious dogs, sharpshooters…
all to prevent escapes to the U.S. base in Guantánamo. It has a sordid extension —
a sea wall in the bay added in the mid-1990s to prevent swimmers from reaching the
U.S. base.

Continue reading The Cuban Regime’s Ongoing Violations of the Right to Life

Give Castro’s embassy in Washington the address it deserves


Rename 16th Street for a dissident who died under mysterious circumstances.
Raising the flag at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14 was a historically symbolic act, but equally symbolic were the absence of dissidents and the failure to talk about Cuba’s repressive regime at this public moment. The 45-minute ceremony illustrated everything that is wrong with Washington’s Cuba policy.
Americans and Cubans who have wanted for decades to hold the island’s dictatorship accountable for its human rights crimes absorbed a tough blow. But if the Obama administration won’t give them the right Cuba policy, Congress can award them an important and symbolic concession: Rub a reminder of the regime’s brutality in its face, every day, by renaming the street where its embassy stands in D.C. after one of its victims, the slain opposition leader Oswaldo Payá.
We all want a free, democratic and prosperous Cuba at peace with the United States. But this is not what Fidel and Raúl Castro want. Raul has made it clear that Cuba will remain under the control of the Communist Party and will not change the nature of the regime. As Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, put it: “Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda.” This is why the Cuban government refused to offer any meaningful political or economic reforms that might loosen its stranglehold on power, such as democratic elections or the release of all prisoners of conscience.
Despite good intentions, the U.S. policy shift morally and financially bolsters the Communist Party and disheartens people — both here and in Cuba — who have fought for freedom and prosperity. America’s recognition of the Castro regime legitimizes the party’s rule and makes continuity of party control more, not less, likely after Raul’s retirement or death. Victims of the Castro regime feel they have lost their staunchest ally, the United States. During an audience with Congress, dissident Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez — commonly known as Antúnez — said the majority of Cuba’s dissidents consider the negotiations between Washington and Havana a betrayal that threatens Cuban people’s aspirations for freedom.

Continue reading Give Castro’s embassy in Washington the address it deserves

The Forgotten, Mysterious Death of Cuba’s Top Dissident


Exactly three years ago, prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá was traveling in a Hyundai sedan from Havana to Santiago de Cuba along with three other people when the car struck a patch of gravel and veered off the road, striking a tree and killing him and one other passenger. At least that’s the Cuban government’s official version of events, and it’s one that Payá’s family and the driver of the car have never accepted. They believe the Hyundai was rammed by a government car and forced off the road.
A new report published Wednesday from the Human Rights Foundation, an advocacy group, assembles the evidence in the Payá case. And while it doesn’t conclusively prove that the activist was assassinated by the Cuban government, it presents a damning case that Havana is, at the very least, trying to cover up what happened on the road from Havana to Santiago de Cuba.
The report comes as the United States and Cuba have embarked on a historic rapprochement, symbolized by the opening this week of each nation’s embassy in the other’s capital. It’s a major diplomatic achievement for the White House, one that might put to bed one of the vestigial conflicts of the Cold War. Critics of the diplomatic opening have long argued that it does nothing to improve the human rights situation on the island, and Wednesday’s report documents the extent of Cuba’s mechanisms of repression.
At the time of his death, Payá was arguably Cuba’s most prominent dissident. He was a champion of the Varela Project, a draft bill that proposed a referendum for Cubans to decide on how to best secure their basic rights. Payá won the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002. Yoani Sánchez, the dissident writer, described his death as a tragedy for Cuba as “a dramatic loss for its present and an irreplaceable loss for its future.”
Travelling with Payá, who was the head of the Christian Liberation Movement, were three other people: the driver, Ángel Carromero, the youth wing leader of Spain’s People’s Party; Jens Aron Modig, then-chairman of Sweden’s Young Christian Democrats; and Harold Cepero, a Cuban pro-democracy activist. Carromero and Modig survived the crash. The two Cubans in the car died. Modig claims he was asleep when the crash happened, so what happened next depends on the testimony of Carromero.
In its investigation of the crash, Cuban authorities placed the blame entirely on Carromero for driving the Hyundai too fast. When he hit a patch of gravel on the road, he abruptly stepped on the brakes, causing the car to skid off the road. Shortly after the crash, the Cuban government broadcast a video of Carromero corroborating this sequence of events. Carromero was convicted for vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. Transferred to Spain in late 2012, Carromero now says he was coerced into making that video.
According to repeated public statements by Carromero, what actually happened on July 22, 2012, was that a car, likely belonging to Cuban authorities, rammed the Hyundai, causing the driver to lose control and the car to careen off the road. In the chaos that followed, Carromero lost his cell phone, but Modig managed to hold on to his. While at the hospital, Modig sent text messages to friends in Sweden saying that Carromero told him that the car they had been traveling in had been forced off the road.
Cuban authorities pounced on Carromero while he was still in the hospital. While drugged, according to the report, Carromero was approached by agents who informed him of the state’s version of events and forced him to sign a confession backing their account. He was then held in a filthy prison and effectively denied access to counsel.
There are other reasons to doubt the Cuban government’s version of events. Payá’s supporters claim to have collected witness testimony backing Carromero’s account that there was a second car on the road that day and that it was a red Lada. A technical analysis of photographs from the crash site cited in the report indicated that it had been tampered with. Payá’s family was never formally informed by the government of his death.
If Cuban government agents were in fact behind Payá’s death, it remains unclear what their motive was. Did they intend to kill him by ramming his car? Or was the crash a case of intimidation gone wrong? We will likely never know.
Unsurprisingly, the Human Rights Foundation report on Payá’s death finds the Cuban government in violation of several aspects of international law, among them a right to a fair trial, prohibitions against forced confessions, and a family’s right to know the truth.
Cuba and the United States are now embarking on a new phase in their relationship, with President Barack Obama’s administration betting that a policy of openness will deliver what decades of antagonism haven’t: Concrete improvements in the political and civil rights of Cuban citizens. Payá’s case illustrates just how urgent that bet is.

Foreign Policy

Cuban dissident’s daughter demands autopsy results from fatal 2012 crash


Oswaldo Paya-Sardiñas’ supporters don’t believe fatal car crash was accident
One day after the Cuban embassy opened in Washington, D.C., the daughter of a prominent Cuban dissident is making demands three years after his death.
Oswaldo Paya-Sardiñas was killed in a car crash in July 2012. Now, his daughter, Rosa Maria Paya, wants the Cuban government to hand over his autopsy results.
“What they are telling us is a lie,” Paya said.
The letters request her father’s autopsy reports done three years ago. Rosa Paya hoped a new and open relationship would allow their delivery and a push for human rights.
Paya-Sardiñas was one of Cuba’s most well-known dissidents, killed as a passenger in a blue rental car that crashed off a deserted road. His supporters have said they do not believe it was an accident.
Paya-Sardiñas preached non-violence (and) reform from within. His 2002 Varela Project collected some 11,000 petitions asking Cuba’s parliament for Democratic reform (and) free elections.
“The people of Cuba (have) never elected the regime that we have now,” said Orlando Luis Pardo  Lazo. “The people of Cuba have never elected — or at least it has never been asked if they want to live under a Communist regime forever.”
Pardo Lazo is a dissident blogger accompanying Paya on her quest, which is much like her father’s.
“Cubans’ rights don’t depend on the American government,” Pardo Lazo said. “We hope to have solidarity from democracies in supporting real changes in Cuba, real changes that we Cubans have designed and have (demanded).”


Cuban activist’s daughter in Tampa pushing for referendum


Rosa Maria Paya, one of Cuba’s best-known young dissident leaders, has a message for those who stand on both sides of the major question facing the communist island nation: Will normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba hasten real freedom for its people?
“They both want to help the Cuban people,” said Paya, 26, who is visiting Tampa this weekend. “I’m sure they agree what is best for the Cuban people is for them to decide on their own destiny.”
Paya’s organization, Cuba Decides, is urging the international community to pressure the Cuban government for a plebiscite — a direct vote of the populace on matters of national importance.
The question she wants answered: Do you want free multiparty elections covered by news organizations without government interference?
She will present her case at 11 a.m. Saturday at the headquarters of Casa de Cuba, 2506 W. Curtis St. At 12:30 p.m. Sunday, she will attend Casa de Cuba’s 25th anniversary celebration at La Giraldilla Hanley, 8218 Hanley Road.
This will be her first U.S. presentation of the plebiscite campaign, centered at the website www.cubadecide.com.
“Everyone needs to help us exert pressure and spread the word that Cubans have the right to choose their government,” Paya said. “No matter your party or political affiliation, this is about supporting real change in Cuba.”
Those in Tampa who support the move by President Barack Obama to normalize relations with Cuba after five decades of isolation may consider the site of Paya’s local presentation to be enemy territory.
Casa de Cuba advocates for continuation of the Cold War-era embargo, arguing it’s the only way to topple the Castro regime and bring democracy to Cuba. Obama says engagement now will improve the lives of its people.
Paya hopes those on both sides of the debate can put their differences aside Saturday.
Everyone is welcome to her presentation, said Ralph Fernandez, the Tampa lawyer who represents Casa de Cuba.
“Her message has universal acceptance,” Fernandez said. “Casa de Cuba does not want to divide the audience.”
Tampa was chosen for Paya’s first U.S. audience for three reasons.
First, because of its Cuban-American population, the third largest in the U.S.
Second, because it is the U.S. city most associated with José Martí, the Cuban freedom fighter who inspired the island nation’s successful war of independence from Spain in the 1890s.
It was from here that Martí raised money for the war and wrote the order for the battle to begin.
Tampa also has the José Martí Trail — a tour of spots linked to the freedom fighter — and in October will become the first U.S. city with a branch of the José Martí Cultural Society. The society has chapters in more than 90 countries.
“Tampa understands Martí’s dream for Cuba,” Paya said. “So they should understand what we need to do now.”
Finally, Tampa was chosen because it has sounded the call for normalization.
The Tampa City Council passed resolutions seeking to host a Cuban consulate and the signing of any documents restoring relations. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce supports trade with Cuba.
And U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, has led the normalization efforts.
Paya would consider it a victory to win support for a plebiscite from among the people of Tampa.
“Tampa’s city council … should show solidarity with the democratic demands of the Cuban people,” said Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, who challenges the Cuban government in the magazine “Voces,” published in the U.S. and available as an Internet download in Cuba.
Tampa Councilwoman Yvonne Capin, who introduced the Cuba resolutions, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Castor said she welcomes Paya to Tampa and encourages her constituents to join Saturday’s discussions.
“America’s new policy of engagement is intended to empower the Cuban people and encourage the Cuban government to go further and faster,” Castor said in an email to the Tribune. “I support Ms. Paya’s right to call for a plebiscite and believe that the Cuban people and indeed all people around the world should have the political freedom to petition their government for change.”
Another supporter of Paya’s measure is Albert Fox, founder of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, which lobbies for the end of the Cuba embargo.
“My opinion has always been that it is not for me or the U.S. government to tell the Cuban citizens what form of government they should have,” Fox said. “That is for them to decide, and that is important to me.”
Neither Castor nor Fox plans to attend Saturday’s event, citing prior commitments.
Cuba holds elections to decide representatives in municipalities, provinces and its National Assembly.
The president, however, is chosen by the National Assembly. A presidential term is five years, and there is no limit on the number of terms.
The Communist Party is the only party allowed under the constitution, but a candidate can run without an affiliation.
Up to 40 percent of the National Assembly members are people without a party, said Ted Henken, professor of Latin American studies at the City University of New York’s Baruch College.
Still, decisions of all elected officials must be in line with the platform of the Communist Party.
And most decision-making power lies with the president and his Council of State, both appointed by the National Assembly.
“The plebiscite is the first step,” Paya said. “Before we can have freedom of elections, we need to decide if we want to make the necessary changes in the system to move us in the right direction.”
The constitution does not require the government to accept the results of a plebiscite, but Paya said the international community would know the wishes of the Cuban people.
Even if the result favors the status quo, she said, she welcomes the chance for Cubans to make their choice.
“This Cuban government has never been selected by the people,” Paya said.
A poll of 1,200 Cuban citizens conducted by Miami-based Bendixen & Amandi International showed 39 percent are satisfied with the political system, 58 percent rate the Communist Party of Cuba negatively and 48 percent are dissatisfied with Raul Castro’s leadership.
Cuba has about 11 million people.
“Obama has said isolation has not worked and this new policy will empower the Cuban people,” said dissident Cuban writer Pardo Lazo. “But the Cuban people are not participating in these discussions, and they will not be allowed to under the current form of government. Those who really say they support Obama because they care about Cuba will support this plebiscite.”
Paya’s work continues the legacy of her father, the late Oswaldo Paya.
He began speaking in favor of more civil rights in Cuba in the 1980s and acquired international fame in 2002 when he presented Cuba’s legislature 11,020 signatures calling for a referendum on safeguarding freedom of speech and assembly and ending one-party rule.
A year later, he delivered an additional 14,000 signatures.
A clause in the constitution requires a national referendum if 11,000 signatures are gathered.
For his efforts, Paya was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and won the European version.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter traveled to Cuba to endorse his cause.
But no referendum was held on his questions.
Instead, the Cuban government scheduled a referendum declaring the socialist system untouchable. The government said more than 8 million voters supported it. The measure was added to the constitution.
Just as her father did, Paya seeks to bridge the debate with her message.
He opposed Fidel and Raul Castro but also the embargo, saying it gave the brothers cover for their economic failures.
Fox, of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, recalls attending cocktail receptions welcoming Paya’s father to the U.S.
Attorney Fernandez supported his petition for a referendum from Tampa.
These two men, who rarely agree on anything about Cuba politics, share respect for his work.
Paya died in a car crash in 2012.
Cuban law enforcement said the vehicle veered off the road accidentally and hit a tree.
Dissidents say witnesses saw another vehicle push it off the road. They contend state security was behind the death.
“Since then Rosa has become a very important figure in Cuba,” said Henken, of Baruch College. “Her last name means something in Cuba. Her father was long heralded for his peaceful resistance to the government. And she has earned credibility through her intelligence and eloquence.”
Paya says she was forced into political exile two years ago by opponents who harassed and threatened her.
She has spent some time in Miami, she said, but stopped short of calling any U.S. city her home.
In May, she returned to Cuba and invited everyone she met to work for a plebiscite.
She said she is not advocating for violent overthrow. Rather, she wants people to have a voice and sees opportunity in the current political climate.
As the U.S. and Cuba renew relations, the eyes of the world are fixed on the island nation.
With the eyes of the world watching, pressure is on the Cuban government, she said.
“People in Cuba want change. This is the moment that can lead us to success.”

The Tampa Tribune

U.S. Engagement With Castro Has Been Deadly for Human Rights Activists

By John Suarez in The Daily Signal:

Why US ‘Engagement’ With Cuba Has Been Deadly for Human Rights Activists
President Obama’s engagement policy with the Castro regime, announced in 2009, has led to a massive increase in arbitrary detentions, violence against activists and the deaths of high-profile opposition leaders under circumstances that point to extrajudicial executions carried out by Cuban state security.
The White House not only began to loosen sanctions on the Castro regime in April 2009, but also refused to meet in June 2009 with the winners of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award, who happened to be five Cuban dissidents that year.
It was the first time in five years the U.S. president did not meet with award laureates. In December 2009, the Castro regime responded to the outreach when it took Alan Gross hostage and the Obama administration responded with initial silence. It took American diplomats 25 days to visit with the arbitrarily detained American.
These signals would have deadly consequences for the Cuban democratic opposition. Rising levels of violence against nonviolent activists and the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (2011), Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012), Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (2012) and Harold Cepero Escalante (2012), followed promptly.
The administration responded to the taking of Gross (2009) and the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on Feb. 23, 2010, by further loosening sanctions on Cuba in January 2011. The number of high-profile activists who died under suspicious circumstances after the second round of loosening of sanctions should give engagement advocates pause in their optimism with the new policy.
Machete attacks by regime officials against activists began in June 2013, the same month as secret negotiations between the Obama administration and the Castro regime started.
On Feb. 3, 2015, Rosa María Payá, in testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued an indictment on the indifference of the US government and the international community:
On 22 July 2012, Cuban State Security detained the car in which my father, Oswaldo Payá, and my friend Harold Cepero, along with two young European politicians, were traveling. All of them survived, but my father disappeared for hours only to reappear dead, in the hospital in which Harold would die without medical attention. The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the U.S. government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come. While you sleep, a second generation of dictators is planning with impunity their next crimes.
Two months later Rosa María Payá, and other activists were harassed first at the airport by Panamanian officials and later at the VII Summit of the Americas for protesting that the United States, along with the democracies of the region, invited Raul Castro to the summit. Castro arrived with a huge entourage of state security agents, then proceeded to interrupt and shut down official civil society gatherings at the summit to silence dissent. Cuban pro-democracy activists were physically assaulted in a public park when they tried to lay a wreath before a bust of Jose Marti suffering broken bones and black eyes.
Meanwhile, President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro and declared the goal of regime change in Cuba was no longer U.S. policy. Now, violence in Cuba escalates each Sunday as men and women of the democratic resistance suffering brutal beatings and detentions.