Tag Archives: Rosa María Payá

A brave act in Cuba deserves American support

The Washington Post

Bringing freedom and democracy to totalitarian Cuba will be no easy task. Two indispensable ingredients, though, must be courage on the part of the country’s dissidents and democrats, and international solidarity with them.

Both were on display in Havana over the past week. At the center of events was Rosa María Payá Acevedo, daughter of the late Oswaldo Payá, a recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought who lost his life in a still-unexplained 2012 car crash. Ms. Payá decided to pay tribute to her father by awarding a human rights prize in his name and chose as the first recipient Luis Almagro, the Uruguayan secretary general of the Organization of American States, who has distinguished himself through forthright condemnation of repression in Cuba’s authoritarian ally Venezuela. Ms. Payá invited former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, former Chilean education minister Mariana Aylwin (daughter of a former president) and Martin Palous, a former Czech ambassador to the United States, to attend.

Raúl Castro’s regime blocked them all from entering the country, telling Mr. Almagro that Ms. Payá’s entirely peaceful program was “anti-Cuban activity” and a “provocation.” Officials also detained journalists attempting to cover the planned ceremony, including Henry Constantin Ferreiro, regional vice chairman of the Inter American Press Association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information. No doubt Ms. Payá’s unauthorized attempt to honor an international diplomat before such distinguished company did present the regime with an awkward choice: to tolerate an elementary exercise of her rights, and the rights of her invitees, or to deny it, and incur international political damage. How revealing of Havana’s true nature, and true priorities, that it chose the latter. Indeed, Cuba’s foreign ministry said the crackdown showed its determination not to “sacrifice its fundamental principles to maintain appearances.”

And how revealing of the limits of U.S. “engagement” with Cuba. While these European and Latin American leaders were supporting Ms. Payá’s assertion of freedom, a bipartisan delegation of six members of Congress, headed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), were on a visit to Cuba, promoting business ties. After a visit with Mr. Castro, Mr. Leahy blandly observed that the dictator “wants reform to continue, he wants the movement forwards to continue” despite President Trump’s uncertain attitude toward the island’s government. Mr. Leahy’s spokesman told us that the delegation’s schedule was too “packed” with appointments such as the Castro meeting to allow for any contact with Ms. Payá, and declined to comment, pro or con, on the regime’s refusal to admit Mr. Almagro and company.

To be sure, Mr. Trump is hardly the ideal spokesman for democracy promotion, in Cuba or anywhere else. All the more reason that members of Congress supply on America’s behalf the solidarity Cuba’s democrats need, and all the more reason to be disappointed that Mr. Leahy and his colleagues did not provide more of it.

As expected, Raúl Castro denied visa for Almagro to visit Cuba

Jamaica Observer

Cuban authorities have denied a visa to the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, to travel to the communist-ruled island to receive a prize from a dissident organisation, he said Wednesday.

Almagro had been invited to receive a prize named for dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died in 2012 in a car crash under mysterious circumstances.

“My request for a visa for the official OAS passport was denied by the Cuban consulate in Washington,” Almagro said in a letter to Paya’s daughter Rosa Maria, who organised the ceremony to confer the prize.

Almagro said he was informed by Cuban consular authorities that he would be denied a visa even if he travelled on his Uruguayan diplomatic passport.

The Cubans conveyed to a representative of Almagro that they regarded the motive of his visit an “unacceptable provocation,” and expressed “astonishment” at the OAS’s involvement in what they deemed anti-Cuban activities, he said.

Almagro said he asked that the decision be reversed, arguing that his trip to Cuba was no different from events he had participated in other countries of the region.

Two other political figures who wanted to travel to Cuba for the award ceremony — Mexico’s former president Felipe Calderon and former Chilean education minister Mariana Aylwin — said they also had been denied visas.

Cuba was suspended from the OAS in 1962 at the height of the Cold War, and has declined to return despite having been readmitted in 2009.

Since Cuba’s suspension, the only OAS secretary general to visit the island was Jose Miguel Insulza, a Chilean who attended a Latin American summit in Havana in 2014.

Obama’s New Cuban Partners, My Old Jailers

By Armando Valladares in The Wall Street Journal


The regime was built on the blood of dissidents like those the U.S. now avoids acknowledging.
All Rosa Maria Payá wants is a copy of her father’s autopsy report. All her father wanted before he was murdered by Castro’s thugs was free elections. These are simple requests that those of us living in freedom enjoy without issue.
But not in Cuba.
In Cuba, to ask for man’s basic rights is to ask for intimidation, incarceration, torture and death. This persists, despite any fanciful ideas that Americans may have about warming relations with the world’s oldest dictatorship. So it’s a tragedy that our own secretary of state was in Cuba on Aug. 14 and failed to make the simplest of requests for the people of Cuba: freedom of speech and religion.
Thousands of Cubans have died fighting for these rights that Americans so freely enjoy. The right to build a church and preach without fear of harassment and secret recording by government hooligans. The right to protest without wondering if your friends will be carted off, never to be seen or heard from again. The right to criticize your government leaders in the opinion pages of a newspaper without fear of being hauled away at gunpoint in the night.
I experienced the latter in Cuba not for what I said, but for what I wouldn’t say: “I’m with Fidel.” I spent eight of my ensuing 22 years in Castro’s jails naked and in solitary confinement because I refused to wear a prison uniform. I was a conscientious objector, and the regime wanted to mark me as a common criminal.
The final cries of my friends at the execution wall that drifted through my cell window, when I had one, became a sort of refrain for the Castro regime, until the government realized that gagging and silencing them before they died sent a more powerful message. I saw countless friends tortured and executed for protesting a government that still crushes the people of Cuba under its boot. A government that our government is treating as a negotiating partner.
The U.S. Embassy opening on Friday, Aug. 14, was little more than fanfare to placate journalists and complacent diplomats in the international arena. Dissidents were excluded. Though many dissidents walk the streets of Cuba, keeping them away from the public eye erects a different sort of prison.
It’s a prison that contains the truth in a sanitized box to protect the Castro brothers’ carefully crafted image that they are reasonable. The purpose is to legitimize their dictatorship, which has not held elections in 50 years and is built on the blood of former prisoners like myself, like Antonio González Rodiles; like Martha Beatriz Roque; like Héctor Maseda; like the father of Rosa Maria Payá, Oswaldo, who was killed in a suspicious car crash in 2012; and like all the dissidents still suffering in Cuba who were kept away from Friday’s celebrations.
As Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio said when he wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 11 asking that dissidents be invited to the embassy ceremony: Dissidents “among many others, and not the Castro family, are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people.”
For decades, many have protested the Cuban government’s position that rights come from the state, that they are a gift from Fidel that he can revoke as quickly as he grants. America is founded on the principle that rights come from God, they precede the state, and they cannot be usurped. If America begins to cede that principle, it will be signing its own death certificate.
I spent 22 years in jail for the principle that it’s what we do not say—in my case, not wearing the state’s uniform—that can count as much as what we say. Our government, if it is to stand on the principles on which America was founded, has an obligation to speak the truth and demand from the Castro regime the rights that the Cuban people are entitled to by their very humanity. To fail to so do is to say, without saying, “We are with Fidel.”

Mr. Valladares is the author of “Against All Hope,” which was first published in 1986. From 1987 to 1990, he served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

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).”


“The United States is negotiating with the Cuban caste. The civil society is excluded”


Cuban regime opponent, daughter of Oswaldo Para, speaks of the shortcomings of the thaw.

This article first appeared in Spanish newspaper El País

Translated by Post Revolution Mondays

To Rosa Maria Paya (b. January 1989, Havana), daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya and a member of the Christian Liberation Movement — founded by her father — is not afraid to say the thaw will not end “the embargo on freedoms” that the Cuban Executive imposes on its inhabitants. “The United States is talking with the Government and those surrounding it. But civil society is left outside. It is a privilege reserved for the Cuban caste. For the rest, it is a situation of exclusion,” she says.
Although she looks favorably on the advance in relations between both countries — in her own words: “And attempt to include Cuba as part of the international community is good, provided the inclusion is of all of Cuba, not just the government.” Paya believes that the reestablishment of the talks offers a “halo of legitimacy to a Government that every day violates the rights of its citizens.”
And she defends, over and over again, the need for this process to come with a change for society. “The confrontation with the United States is the excise the government has used to justify some of its repressive measures. Now the excuse has fallen but the situation continues the same, which shows that it was not the United States that was oppressing Cubans, but rather the government itself.” Continue reading “The United States is negotiating with the Cuban caste. The civil society is excluded”

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.