CubaBrief: Remembering the legacy of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas spoke truth to power his entire life. On March 30, 2012, speaking on behalf of the Christian Liberation Movement he warned how the Castro dictatorship would use the resources of the Cuban diaspora to perpetuate itself in power condemning it:

Our Movement denounces the regime’s attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression. The Diaspora does not have to “assume attitudes and policies in entering the social activity of the island.” The Diaspora is a Diaspora because they are Cuban exiles to which the regime denied rights as it denies them to all Cubans. It is not in that part of oppression, without rights, and transparency that the Diaspora has to be inserted, that would be part of fraudulent change.

The gradual approach makes sense only if there are transparent prospects of freedom and rights. We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It’s time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim. Changes that signifies freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight.

Less than four months later on July 22, 2012 he was killed, along with Christian Liberation Movement youth leader Harold Cepero in what was an extrajudicial killing carried out by Cuban state security.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was a disciple of Martin Luther King Jr., who corresponded with both Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. Oswaldo’s nonviolent resistance required creativity and courage to confront an all powerful totalitarian state, and like them, he offered a moral and ethical path to liberation.

The Castro regime saw what the consequences were when a Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel could peacefully organize, despite repression and prison, they could still lead a non-violent transition to democracy. This is why they murdered Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero.

Regis Iglesias, spokesperson for the Christian Liberation Movement, published an essay on July 15, 2020 titled Without Oswaldo and Harold where he laid out the case that what happened on July 22, 2012 was an extrajudicial killing by Castro’s secret police:

“This July 22nd, eight years will have passed without the Cuban regime giving answers about the deaths of Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and Sakharov Prize laureate of the European Parliament 2002 and of the young activist Harold Cepero while traveling by road to the east of the island.

Oswaldo and Harold were accompanied by the then president of New Generations of the Popular Party in Madrid, Ángel Carromero and the Christian Democrat Swede Aron Modig.

From Carromero and other witnesses who could see Cepero alive in the hospital we found out from the first moment that it was an organized crime and executed by the repressive forces of the Cuban regime that had been following them throughout the trip.

Also the sloppy official version itself is a lie due to the irreconcilable technical contradictions with which they tried to make us believe that it had been a traffic accident.

Carromero himself after his return to Spain claimed that Oswaldo and Harold were alive when he was taken from the scene by the forces of the political police.

After a light blow from the car that was following them, Ángel was able to brake and when he was going to complain to his attackers, he received a pistol blow to the temple, losing consciousness until he was introduced to another vehicle that took him to the hospital. This was confirmed with monosyllables from prison and using the Consul Kirpatick’s cell phone, who had come to visit the current president of the Popular Party, Pablo Casado.

Carromero told all this to the Spanish and North American press, but no one listened to him, no one has supported him on his return, and the crime has gone unpunished.”

On this eighth anniversary masses will be held in Cuba and around the world organized by the Christian Liberation Movement to honor and pray for Oswaldo and Harold and the dissident group continues to circulate a petition demanding justice for their two martyred activists.  

Meanwhile the family of Oswaldo Payá will hold a mass at the Church of St. Raymond of Peñafort in Miami, FL and pay homage to Oswaldo and Harold in a virtual live broadcast of tributes to the two Cuban martyrs, and other new martyrs for democracy from around the Americas that begins on July 22nd at 9:00am. CubaDecide provided the following description for the video:

“Live broadcast of the Tribute to Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero on the 8th anniversary of their murder. From various cities around the world we gather to commemorate the Victims of Communism in the Americas, a tribute to the new Martyrs of Democracy.”

Below is a post that appeared today on the blog Democracy Speaks of the International Republican Institute. Tomorrow at 2:00pm the Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba will be taking part in the event in Washington DC in remembrance of Oswaldo and Harold.

Democracy Speaks July 21, 2020

Remembering Oswaldo Payá: The Legacy of a Cuban Visionary

By Alejandra Marma-Gutiérrez | Senior Program Associate, LAC | @AlejandraMarma

Oswaldo Payá was a father, political activist and one of the first outspoken opposition members in Cuba. Founder of the Christian Liberation Movement and primary organizer of the Valera Project, Payá devoted his career to opposing Cuba’s one-party rule and fighting for freedom of speech and other core political rights. His selfless dedication to protecting human rights won the admiration of many – recognitions included the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 2002.  Sadly, Payá was killed in a car accident on July 22, 2012, which many believe was orchestrated by the Cuban regime.

As the International Republican Institute (IRI) remembers Oswaldo Payá on the anniversary of his death, we asked political leaders and activists – including U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and Cuban opposition leader Jose Daniel Ferrer – to share their reflections on his life and legacy.

What is Payá’s legacy and how can Cubans honor that legacy?

“Oswaldo Payá paid the ultimate price for speaking out against the Castro dictatorship. As we commemorate the eighth anniversary of Payá’s assassination, we are reminded of the everlasting legacy he has left throughout Latin America in the defense of liberty, human rights, and freedom of speech. As a martyr for the cause of a free Cuba, Payá’s courage and everlasting advocacy against tyranny remain alive through his beloved daughter Rosa María Payá and the many Cubans he inspired.”

– Senator Marco Rubio

“Payá’s determination, love for his country, and devout faith inspired him to organize thousands of Cuban citizens in nonviolent attempts to bring democracy to Cuba. He taught us that a sincere and principled fight is possible, something that the Cuba regime can never erase from the minds of Cubans. While Payá is gone, his spirit lives on through those who work tirelessly to promote democracy and freedom in Cuba. The United States and USAID stand with our brothers and sisters in Cuba who continue to demand change.”

– Acting USAID Administrator John Barsa

“Payá ’s legacy is one of courage and sacrifice in response to extreme oppression. Payá tirelessly worked to promote basic rights and freedoms for the Cuban people and established a pro-freedom organization that prized innate human worth despite the confines of a dehumanizing regime. When the Cuban people are finally free, it will be due to the heroism of activists such as Oswaldo Payá.”

– Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)

“Oswaldo Payá dedicated his life to the tireless pursuit of freedom and democracy in Cuba. Oswaldo embodied the self-sacrifice and stubborn determination of generations of Cuban activists, and he inspired so many others, not only in Cuba but throughout the world […] One day, when the Cuban people are finally able to vote in competitive elections and speak their minds without repercussions, it will be thanks in no small part to the fearless and enduring activism of Oswaldo Payá.”

– Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee

“Paya’s legacy is one of dedicating one’s life to freedom, democracy and respect for human rights for his fellow countrymen […]. Cubans can honor that legacy by never giving up hope that there will be a better day ahead for all and to push every day to reach the goal of having truly fair and free elections on the island […] We can all honor his legacy by helping political prisoners, by giving voice to the dissidents and opposition leaders and by fighting for a free political system in Cuba.”

– Former Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

“Oswaldo made tireless efforts to bring attention to violations against religious liberties in Cuba before it was a topic of discussion.”

– Dr. Teo Babun, President and CEO, Outreach Aid to the Americas

“Payá’s greatest legacy for his fellow citizens was to help us wake up and discover that we don’t need to continue living as subjects, that we are humans created with dignity just by being born. Cubans can follow this legacy by recognizing this, and acting according to it, just like Payá did.”

 – Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, Coordinator, Patamos Institute

What message, action, or idea from Oswaldo Payá impacted you most?

“His main message, the words that best characterize him are these: ‘The first victory that we can proclaim is that we do not have hate in our hearts, which is why we tell those that persecute us and those that try to dominate us: you are my brother, I do not hate you, but you will no longer dominate me by fear…’”

– Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba

“I admired Oswaldo’s ideological consistency and his humility.”

– Orlando Gutierrez, President of the Cuban Democratic Directorate

Do you think Payá’s fight is still alive? Why?

“Without a doubt Payá’s fight is still alive and gets stronger, even in the most difficult moments and when the regime increases its repression. Every day Cubans are willing to face beatings, prison, torture, and other inhumane and cruel treatments, with the goal of liberating Cuba from the oppression that Castro’s communism imposes.”

– Jose Daniel Ferrer

What would Payá say to the Cubans suffering because the regime doesn’t attend to their needs, and to those that have lost hope for change?

“That we are closer than ever to achieve what we have wanted for so long. Like he would say ‘the night will not be eternal’ and that, if that night seems to be darker than ever it is for one reason, that the dawn is close.”

– Pastor Mario Félix Lleonart Barroso

How are Cubans currently carrying on Payá’s legacy?

“Each day, Cubans are more committed and inspired by Oswaldo Payá and other martyrs in the fight for a democratic, just, and prosperous Cuba […] We must continue to lead by example and to share the knowledge that we will not have a just, free, prosperous, and brotherly country until we are capable of fighting with strength and courage. There is no freedom without sacrifices.”

– Jose Daniel Ferrer

The activists and international leaders who have been inspired by Oswaldo Payá are a testament to his remarkable legacy, and to the enduring desire for freedom in Cuba.  IRI is proud to support Cubans as they strive to fulfill Payá’s inspiring example.

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Alejandra Marma-Gutiérrez

Senior Program Associate, LAC @AlejandraMarma