CubaBrief: Eleven years ago today agents of the Cuban dictatorship murdered pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. Remember them.

Eleven years ago today agents of the Cuban dictatorship murdered pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. Oswaldo Payá was a Sakharov Laureate who had been twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ten years ago Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights petitioned the  Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to examine the evidence around the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012.

On June 12, 2023 the IACHR published their report on the merits that found Cuban government agents responsible for the deaths of the two pro-democracy leaders and Christian Liberation Movement leaders.

Earlier today, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights released a video highlighting their continued demand for justice for Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, and placing it in context of the repressive climate in Cuba today.

Yesterday, and today activists in the Washington DC area took to the streets to highlight the terrorist nature of the Cuban dictatorship, and the fact that they continue to murder human rights activists.

Why did the Cuban dictatorship seek revenge against Oswaldo and Harold? 

The Varela Project demonstrated to the international community that thousands of Cubans were not satisfied with the status quo, and wanted human rights to be respected, and multiparty democracy to return to Cuba.

This contradicted the official narrative.

On May 10, 2002, Oswaldo, along with Regis Iglesias and Tony Diaz Sanchez of the Christian Liberation Movement, turned in 11,020 Varela Project petitions, and news of the petition drive was reported worldwide.

Regis Iglesias and Tony Diaz Sanchez were sentenced to long prison sentences in March 2003 following show trials, along with 73 other Cuban dissidents. Many of them had taken part in the Varela Project and, nearly eight years later, were forced into exile as an alternative to completing their prison sentences.

In spite of the crackdown, Oswaldo would turn in another 14,384 petition signatures with Freddy Martini on October 5, 2003. He would spend the next eight years campaigning for the release of his imprisoned compatriots and continuing campaigns to achieve a democratic transition in Cuba.

Early in 2012 Oswaldo also denounced that the Cuban government was engaged in a fraudulent change in which Cuban exiles were being asked to be complicit in their own repression.

Once again he was disrupting the Cuban regime’s narrative.

Around the world today, and in Cuba mass is being held in memory of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.

Remember them.

They killed two men, but could not kill the ideas and projects they represented. The Christian Liberation Movement continues under the leadership of Eduardo Cardet, and Rosa María Payá, Oswaldo’s daughter, has emerged as a leader in her own right within the CubaDecide campaign.

Learn the full story in David Hoffman’s definitive book on this nonviolent Cuban icon, Give Me Liberty: The True Story of Oswaldo Payá and his Daring Quest for a Free Cuba.

RFK Human Rights, July 22, 2023

VOICES FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Human Rights under the Cuban Regime More than a Decade after Pro-democracy leaders’ Assassination

By Ekeoma Ugo Ezeh

July 22, 2023 Civic Space and Activists

11 years ago today, on July 22, 2012, premier pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Payá and youth organizer Harold Cepero made their way across the island of Cuba on the central expressway headed to Santiago. Near Bayamo they were rammed off the road by an official government vehicle, killing both of them. Their driver, Spanish political activist Ángel Carromero, was subsequently tortured into giving a false admission of fault. The Cuban regime sentenced him to four years in prison for vehicular homicide, to be served in 100 y Aldabó Prison, a place described as the scariest prison in Cuba. Just last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a quasi-judicial body of the Organization of American States (OAS), published their decision determining that Carromero’s coerced confession and the Cuban regime’s version of events was all a lie. The Commission found that there was enough evidence to hold the Cuban regime responsible for the murder of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. However, over a decade after their deaths, their struggle for democracy and human rights in Cuba continues.

In 1996, the IACHR established that Chapter 4b of their Annual Reports would include an analysis of specific countries in the region whose human rights contexts call for particular concern and special attention. Cuba has been included in Chapter 4b of every Annual Report since 1996, and the IACHR has been consistent in its denunciation of the state of human rights in Cuba. The 2012 and 2013 Annual Reports make specific reference to the deaths and case of Payá and Cepero, citing that several journalists were arbitrarily detained after attending Payá’s funeral, and in a later incident while en route to cover the trial of driver Ángel Carromero. Furthermore, in the months and years following Payá’s death his family continued to receive death threats and on one occasion Payá’s daughter Rosa María was prevented from traveling. In 2020, impulsed by “the constant reports of human rights violations in Cuba,” the IACHR published an entire report on the human rights situation in Cuba, in addition to multiple press statements, hearings, meetings, etc. conducted to address consistent human rights violations and dismissal of international standards.

On July 11, 2021, record-breaking protests broke out across the island. In the largest public demonstrations in over 60 years, thousands of people from all walks of life took to the streets to denounce the regime’s failure to provide food and medicine during the Covid-19 pandemic, lack of democracy, and restrictions on fundamental human rights.

These historic protests, now referred to as the 11J protests, made global headlines and called international attention to Cuba’s dire human rights and humanitarian situation. However, the regime retaliated against Cubans by clamping down on their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and a wave of arbitrary arrests and detentions swept across the country. In the days, weeks, and months following the 11J protests more than 1500 people were arrested and detained. The regime used social media footage of the protests to identify protesters and arrest them in their homes. Hundreds of people, including more than 50 minors, were subjected to hasty trials, many of which lacked due process and proper representation. Amnesty International named six prisoners of conscience who were detained in relation to the 11J protests, and civil society around the world continues to denounce the regime’s actions.

So why does the Cuban regime still seem so untouchable? Many attribute Cuba’s apparent immunity to international reproach to their smooth diplomatic tactics with other governments at the United Nations level. The Cuban regime is well known for their poor human rights record, and has a reputation of non-compliance with UN Special Procedures and voting against holding States’ accountable for serious human rights violations. Despite this, the State is currently carrying out their fifth consecutive three-year term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), a body whose members are elected by the UN General Assembly. In other words, governments around the world have appointed Cuba to the HRC for nearly 15 years! While at the same time Cuban delegates are known to harass and intimidate civil society participants and victims of their regime even in UN fora.

Cuba cannot continue to get away with blatant human rights violations. Cuba’s HRC term is coming to an end and this October the State will be up for reelection. In November, the HRC will conduct its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cuba. During the UPR process, the HRC and other UN member states – led by Benin, Argentina, and Nepal – will evaluate Cuba’s human rights context during the previous five years based on a national report submitted by the government, and several alternative reports submitted by civil society and other stakeholders. The international community must utilize the months leading up to the HRC elections and the UPR to advocate before UN permanent missions to ensure that Cuba is not reelected to the HRC and that, during the upcoming UPR, the State is held accountable and specific and pertinent recommendations are given.

The Cuba that Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero imagined, struggled for, and died for is indeed possible. Now is the time for the international community and UN member states to do their part in advocating for respect for human rights and democracy.

Click here to read our alternative report on freedom of association in Cuba, submitted jointly with Cubalex, Justicia 11J, and Civil Rights Defenders.

https://rfkhumanrights.org/voices-for-human-rights/human-rights-under-the-cuban-regime-more-than-a-decade-after-pro-democracy-leaders-assassination

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, June 12, 2023

IACHR Publishes Report on the Case of Rights Defenders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in Cuba

June 12, 2023

Washington, D.C.– The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) publishes Admissibility and Merits Report 83/23, regarding Case 14.196. This case concerns the responsibility of the State of Cuba for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero and the torture and violations of judicial guarantees subsequently suffered by Ángel Carromero.
 
Human rights defender and political leader Oswaldo Payá and fellow human rights defender and dissident Harold Cepero were subjected to various acts of violence, harassment, threats, and attempted murder when a car crash finally cost them their lives on June 22, 2012. Later, Ángel Carromero, who had been driving the car at the time of the crash and survived, was prosecuted, and convicted in connection with these events.
 
In its report, the IACHR stresses that what happened to the victims had to be considered in the context of the persecution and State repression against political dissidents and rights defenders in Cuba, which seek to discourage or prevent efforts to advocate or promote human rights.
 
The IACHR identified sufficient serious evidence to conclude that State agents had been involved in the deaths of Payá and Cepero. In particular, the Commission took into consideration Carromero’s testimony—confirmed by an eyewitness—noting that the vehicle had been hit by an official car. The State did not submit allegations or otherwise refute these arguments. The IACHR therefore established that the State of Cuba had violated the rights to life, honor, and freedom of expression of the two men.
 
The Commission found many irregularities and omissions in the investigation of these events, including poor investigative capacity and a failure to get survivors to testify, as well as the fact that the authorities immediately adopted an official position, before having conducted the necessary investigation.
 
Concerning the right to access to justice, the IACHR found that Oswaldo Payá’s family had never been granted access to the autopsy reports or to the results of other relevant procedures. In proceedings against Ángel Carromero for his alleged responsibility in the accident, the authorities did not allow them to be involved, request evidence, or appeal the conviction. The Commission concluded that this investigation failed to comply with State obligations concerning due diligence, the exhaustion of logical lines of investigation, the need to publicize proceedings, and the need to grant access to information.
 
The IACHR therefore concluded that Cuba had violated the rights to justice and to file petitions held in the American Declaration, to the detriment of the families of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.
 
The IACHR also found that Carromero’s right to judicial guarantees had been violated, given that he did not have legal counsel since the beginning of the investigation, he was not allowed to submit evidence or conduct procedures in his own defense, and the whole trial, up until his conviction, was shrouded in secrecy and not adequately publicized.
 
Ángel Carromero was subjected to an unlawful, arbitrary arrest, threatened by State authorities to get him to confess his alleged responsibility in the crash, and subjected to torture and other forms of inhuman treatment, including beatings and lack of access to open air, sunlight, and adequate nutrition. The IACHR therefore found that the State had violated Carromero’s right to personal integrity.
 
In its report, the Commission also found that the State had violated the rights to residence and freedom of movement of Oswaldo Payá and his family, because he was often prevented from moving freely around the country for being a rights defender. Payá’s family was denied the chance to travel to collect his remains, and they were later forced to leave the country after receiving threats and harassment from the State.
 
The IACHR calls on the State of Cuba to comprehensively implement all recommendations made in this report, including the following: providing material and immaterial reparations to victims and their families; launching a diligent and effective investigation within a reasonable timeframe to establish what happened and to identify and punish the people responsible for it; taking measures to prevent similar events from happening again; and enabling the voluntary return of individuals who were forced to rebuild their lives elsewhere in the wake of these events.  

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 116/23

4:30 PM

https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/jsForm/?File=/en/iachr/media_center/preleases/2023/116.asp

Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter, July 22, 2023

Remembering Cuban opposition leaders, Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, both murdered by the Castro regime on July 22, 2012

The Cuban government imprisons, forcibly exiles, or kills those who advocate for nonviolent reform within the existing constitutional framework in support of human rights. The Castro regime has also engaged in and sponsored terrorism for 64 years, but before spreading terror around the world, the Castro brothers won power in Cuba through a campaign of bombings, killings, kidnappings, and hijackings in the 1950s.

On July 22, 2012, Castro’s secret police murdered Oswaldo Payá Sardias and Harold Cepero Escalante, two heroes for democracy in the Americas. 

Last month, following a ten year investigation, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights confirmed that the two human rights defenders were killed by Cuban government agents.

Oswaldo Payá  was sixty years old when he was assassinated by Castro regime agents on this day 11 years ago. 

Oswaldo was a family man and lay Catholic from Havana, an engineer who, in September 1988, founded the Christian Liberation Movement with fellow Catholics in the El Cerro neighborhood, and over the next 23 years would carry out important campaigns to support human rights and a democratic transition in Cuba. 

He would speak out against human rights breaches and demand victims’ dignity, even if it meant denouncing the United States for mistreating Al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo Naval Base prison in 2002.

Oswaldo was a consistent defender of human rights.

Harold Cepero  was 32 years old when he was assassinated alongside Oswaldo. He was from the town of Chambas in Ciego de Ávila.  Harold began studying at the University of Camaguey when he was 18 years old, and in 2002, he and other students signed the Varela Project. It was a legal measure inside the existing Cuban constitution sponsored by the Christian Liberation Movement.

Despite this, Harold and other students were expelled from the university for signing it and sharing it with others. The secret police would organize a mob to “judge”, scream at, insult, threaten and expel the students who had signed the Varela Project. Following his expulsion on November 13, 2002, Harold wrote a letter warning that “those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves.”  

Expelled from university for signing the Varela Project alongside other students. He enrolled in a seminary and began studies for the priesthood before leaving to join the Christian Liberation Movement and becoming a human rights defender.  

Why did the Cuban dictatorship seek revenge against Oswaldo and Harold?  The Varela Project demonstrated to the international community that thousands of Cubans were not satisfied with the status quo, and wanted human rights to be respected, and multiparty democracy to return to Cuba. This contradicted the official narrative. 

On May 10, 2002, Oswaldo, along with Regis Iglesias and Tony Diaz Sanchez of the Christian Liberation Movement, turned in 11,020 Varela Project petitions, and news of the petition drive was reported worldwide.

Regis Iglesias and Tony Diaz Sanchez were sentenced to long prison sentences in March 2003 following show trials, along with 73 other Cuban dissidents. Many of them had taken part in the Varela Project and, nearly eight years later, were forced into exile as an alternative to completing their prison sentences.

In spite of the crackdown, Oswaldo would turn in another 14,384 petition signatures with Freddy Martini on October 5, 2003. He would spend the next eight years campaigning for the release of his imprisoned compatriots and continuing campaigns to achieve a democratic transition in Cuba.

Ten years, two months and twelve days after turning in the first Varela Project petitions while traveling with two international visitors in Eastern Cuba on a Sunday afternoon on July 22, 2012, Oswaldo and Harold were killed. Cuban state security bumped into the car they were driving, and when the vehicles stopped, with everyone still alive in the car, they approached the driver, striking him in the temple with the butt of a pistol. Within hours, the lifeless and brutalized bodies of both men would appear.

Today, Cuba has over 1,000 political prisoners, with many more imprisoned under the Orwellian statute known as “precrime.” The mere potential that you will constitute a threat in the future is enough to lock you up. 

Oswaldo Payá, when awarded the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought on December 17, 2002, spoke prophetically when he said: “The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people.” “The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized.”

In the midst of the darkness, it is important to remember the rays of light that provide a route to freedom and the full exercise of human rights in Cuba and around the world.

Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero, and others, both living and dead, laid the framework for the nonviolent nature of the large nationwide protests that began on July 11, 2021, which established a new before and after in Cuban history.