CubaBrief: Ofelia Acevedo, widow of Cuban human rights defender Oswaldo Payá, files lawsuit against former U.S. diplomat who spied for communist Cuba

Ofelia Acevedo, the widow of the late Cuban human rights defender Oswaldo Payá, filed a lawsuit in Dade County, Florida, against Victor Manuel Rocha, a former American diplomat. The U.S. Attorney General recently revealed Rocha’s four-decade collaboration with the Cuban dictatorship as one of the most significant foreign agent breaches of the United States government.

On the same day Ambassador Rocha pleaded guilty to spying for the communist dictatorship in Cuba.

In 2012, the Castro regime killed Payá and Harold Cepero. At the same time, Rocha was working with Havana, giving advice to U.S. national security authorities, and gaining access to the most sensitive intelligence held by the United States. “I seek what I have sought all along: for the truth, for justice, and for the regime and its accomplices of to stop acting with impunity,” said Acevedo.

Ofelia Acevedo sits with hunger striker Alexis Gomez, the on day 15 of a hunger strike for Cuban refugees held in the Bahamas in August 2013.

Christian Liberation Movement founder Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was born on this day 72 years ago on February 29, 1952.

Oswaldo Payá was sixty years old when he was murdered by Castro regime agents. He 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 Havana neighborhood of El Cerro. Over the next 23 years he carried out important campaigns to support human rights and a transition to democracy in Cuba. He spoke out against human rights violations and demanded dignity for victims, even if it meant criticizing the United States for the mistreatment of Al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo Naval Base prison in 2002. Oswaldo was a consistent defender of human rights. He was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament in 2002.

Oswaldo was extrajudicially executed in Cuba by Castro’s secret police on July 22, 2012 along with the movement’s youth leader Harold Cepero. 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 and Harold 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.

This is why it is surprising to see that the article by journalists JOSHUA GOODMAN and JIM MUSTIAN is headlined “Family of Cuban dissident who died in mysterious car crash sues accused American diplomat-turned-spy.” The NGO Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights correctly describes the incident that took place on July 22, 2012 as a “car crash provoked by Cuban state agents“. Respectfully to the Associated Press, but a more accurate headline would have been:  “Family of Cuban dissident who died in a car crash provoked by Cuban state agents sues accused American diplomat-turned-spy.”

CubaDecide, February 29, 2024

Former U.S. Diplomat who Collaborated with Cuban Regime Faces Lawsuit by Widow of Slain Dissident.

Miami, Florida – February 29, 2024

Today, Ofelia Acevedo, the widow of the late Cuban human rights defender Oswaldo Payá, filed a lawsuit in Dade County, Florida, against Victor Manuel Rocha, a former U.S. diplomat, whose four-decade-long collaboration with the Cuban regime was recently exposed by the U.S. Attorney General as one of the most profound penetrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent. Payá was assassinated by the Castro regime in 2012, a period during which Rocha was collaborating with Cuba while advising U.S. national security officials and accessing America’s most sensitive intelligence.

“I seek what I have sought all along: for the truth, for justice, and for the regime and its accomplices of to stop acting with impunity,” said Acevedo.

Oswaldo Payá, a renowned advocate for the Cuban people’s right to hold free elections and a peaceful government transition, was murdered in 2012. Despite the regime’s persistent denials, in a historic verdict in 2023, the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights found that the Cuban government was responsible for Payá’s murder.

His daughter, Rosa María Payá, founder of Cuba Decide, a citizen initiative created to continue Oswaldo’s work on behalf of democracy in Cuba, emphasized the broader implications of Rocha’s collaboration: “Rocha was instrumental in perpetuating a terrorist regime that undermines America’s national security interests, oppresses the Cuban people, and threatens peace in the region.”

Oswaldo Payá legacy is underscored by his international recognition, including the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Human Rights awarded by the European Parliament. 

“My father would have celebrated his 72nd birthday tomorrow, on February 29,” his daughter remarked. “We remain steadfast in carrying on the work he initiated until the Cuban people achieve the freedom unjustly withheld from them by the regime and its accomplices.”

The lawsuit, filed in Miami Dade County, where Rocha had retired, marks a pivotal moment in the pursuit of accountability for those complicit in human rights abuses in Cuba. The Payá family is represented by Continental, a law firm based in Florida.

https://cubadecide.org/2024/02/former-u-s-diplomat-who-collaborated-with-cuban-regime-faces-lawsuit-by-widow-of-slain-dissident/?lang=en

Associated Press, February 29, 2024

Family of Cuban dissident who died in mysterious car crash sues accused American diplomat-turned-spy

By JOSHUA GOODMAN and JIM MUSTIAN

Updated 11:26 AM EST, February 29, 2024

MIAMI (AP) — The widow of a prominent Cuban dissident killed in a mysterious car crash has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a former U.S. ambassador suspected of working for Cuba, accusing the former diplomat of sharing intelligence that emboldened Cuba’s communist leaders to assassinate a chief opponent.

Oswaldo Payá died in 2012 when his car crashed into a tree in eastern Cuba in what the government deemed an accident caused by driver error. However, a survivor said the vehicle had been rammed from behind by a red Lada with government plates, a claim in line with findings by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last year that state security agents likely participated in the activist’s death.

In the state lawsuit filed Thursday in Miami, Ofelia Payá accused Manual Rocha, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, of being an “accomplice” to her husband’s “assassination.” Rocha was arrested in December on charges he worked as a secret agent of Cuba stretching back to the 1970s.

Rocha “directly aided Cuban officials by providing them with critical intelligence that he obtained through his Top-Secret security clearance and influential roles,” the lawsuit alleges. “Cuba would not have been able to execute Mr. Payá with impunity without Defendant conspiring with and providing intelligence and aid to Cuba’s dictatorship.”

The lawsuit, filed on what would have been Payá’s 72nd birthday, underscores the deep anger and sense of betrayal felt by Miami’s powerful Cuban exile community, which viewed Rocha as a conservative standard bearer and one of their own. Payá is being represented pro bono by attorney Carlos Trujillo, the son of Cuban immigrants who served as Ambassador to the Organization of American State during the Trump administration.

While the lawsuit cites no evidence linking Rocha to the death, it claims Rocha as a diplomat and in business after retiring from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2002 sought ways to secretly strengthen Castro’s revolution.

Those efforts allegedly included securing a position from 2006 to 2012 as a special adviser to the head of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, which has responsibility over Cuba..

“Beneath this veneer of loyalty and service to the United States, Defendant held a clandestine allegiance to the Cuban regime,” the lawsuit alleges.

A review by The Associated Press of secret diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks found that over 20 months between 2006 to 2008, diplomats from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana sent Southcom’s commander 22 reports about Payá’s activities, his funding from the U.S. government and interactions with American officials.

In one cable, from February 2008, then chief of mission Michael Parmly summarized for Navy Adm. James Stavridis, then commander of Southcom, a meeting with Payá in which he urged the activist to take advantage of an upcoming visit by the Vatican to step up pressure on the government to release more political prisoners.

“Payá remains convinced the (government) is feeling intense pressure within Cuba from the population for deep change,” according to the cable.

Rocha’s attorney, Jacqueline Arango, and Southcom didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

At the time of his death at age 60, Payá had built a reputation as the Cuban government’s most dogged opponent, having built a grassroots network of like-minded Christians, called the Varela Project, to promote freedom of assembly and human rights on the tightly controlled island.

In 2002, the European Union awarded Payá its top human rights award, named for Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. He dedicated the prize to his fellow Cubans. “You too are entitled to rights,” he said in his acceptance speech.

https://apnews.com/article/oswaldo-paya-death-lawsuit-ambassador-cuba-9671a518b2c1ee5c4593006f5c23c63f

Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter, February 29, 2024

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas born 72 years ago: Honoring Cuba’s Consistent Human Rights Defender

“In Cuba we are being prohibited from preparing that future, working now at night for the following morning, because someone has said that the night will not end. But the night will not be eternal, it is ending.” – Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas

Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas was born 72 years ago on February 29, 1952 and was extrajudicially executed in Cuba by Castro’s secret police on July 22, 2012 along with Harold Cepero.

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 and Harold 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.

Twenty two years earlier, Oswaldo Payá along with other members of the Christian Liberation Movement in May 2002 turned in thousands of signatures from the Varela Project, a petition that called for human rights to be respected in Cuba, and that the matter be debated before the National Assembly.

In December of 2002, thanks to lobbying and pressure from Spain, Oswaldo Payá was able to travel to Strasbourg, France to receive the European Union’s Sakharov Prize and address the chamber

In 2011, seven Norwegian members of parliament nominated Oswaldo Payá for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Václav Havel had also twice nominated Oswaldo Payá ).

Following the untimely deaths of Oswaldo and Harold, the Cuban opposition leader’s family was subjected to death threats and heightened surveillance by state security.   

On June 21, 2022 David Hoffman’s book on Oswaldo Payá, “Give Me Liberty: The True Story of Oswaldo Payá and his Daring Quest for a Free Cuba” was made available for purchase. You can purchase it here.

Today on his birth anniversary, let us also remember and pray for the soul of this good man, who sacrificed all for the freedom of the Cuban people.

The Washington Post, February 29, 2024

Former U.S. ambassador admits to serving as secret agent for Cuba

By Daniel Wu

Manuel Rocha, a retired U.S. ambassador, said Thursday that he will plead guilty to charges of serving as a secret agent for Cuba’s spy agency, affirming what the Justice Department described as one of the most severe infiltrations of U.S. government in history.

Rocha, 73, told a federal judge that he would plead guilty to charges of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, the Associated Press reported. His attorney said that prosecutors agreed to a sentence, but it was not disclosed in court, according to the AP.

Rocha is expected to return to court on April 12.

Prosecutors alleged in December that Rocha, a former State Department employee who served on the National Security Council and as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, spied on the United States for over 40 years as an agent of Cuba.

He was arrested after a year-long undercover sting operation conducted by the FBI, during which Rocha admitted to his decades of work as a covert agent and referred to the United States as “the enemy,” according to the Justice Department.

This story is developing and will be updated.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/02/29/manuel-rocha-ambassador-spying-cuba/

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, June 12, 2023

Inter-American Commission Holds Cuba Responsible For The Assassination Of Pro-Democracy Leaders Oswaldo Payá And Harold Cepero

In a landmark decision the Inter-American Commission held the Government of Cuba responsible for the assassination of pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.

June 12, 2023

Statement

[June 12, 2023] Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights celebrates a decision published today by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), holding the Cuban Government responsible for the assassination of pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero who were killed after a car crash provoked by Cuban state agents on July 22, 2012. This unprecedented decision comes after 10 years of litigation before the IACHR by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights on behalf of the Payá and Cepero families.

In its decision, the IACHR considered that there were serious and sufficient indications to conclude that State agents directly participated in the deaths of Payá and Cepero. The IACHR also stated that Cuba was responsible for violations of the right to due process and judicial guarantees of Ángel Carromero, a Spanish citizen and witness, who was also present in the car crash that killed Payá and Cepero. These violations included cruel and inhumane acts, and coercion to obtain a false confession from Carromero who was forced to claim responsibility for the car crash. Similarly, the IACHR held the Cuban government responsible for the violation of the right to physical and mental integrity of the surviving victims, for inflicting unnecessary pain and anguish, as a result of the lack of an effective investigation, as well as the harassment they were subjected to after the deaths of their loved ones, forcing them into exile.

“On that July afternoon, upon receiving the tragic news, my heart immediately acknowledged the truth that this Commission today reaffirms: the Castros finally carried out their murderous threats. Yet, they failed to kill Oswaldo’s legacy. My husband’s lessons compel us to envision the future with optimism and realize that we possess the power to overcome our circumstances. The path towards liberation is already charted for Cuba – the Path of the People,” said Ofelia Acevedo, Payá’s widow.

“Today’s decision confirms to the world what we have known all along – that my father, Oswaldo Payá, and Harold Cepero were executed by State agents on orders of the Castros. We are now a step closer to justice, holding the Cuban Regime accountable for its atrocious acts.” Rosa María Payá, Payá’s daughter and founder of Cuba Decide, added. “This is not just a victory for our families, but for all the victims of the dictatorship and all Cubans who keep fighting for democracy and freedom.”

On July 22, 2012, Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas, a renowned Cuban dissident and human rights leader, was killed by Cuban state agents near Bayamo, Cuba. Harold Cepero, a young activist who was traveling with him, died in the hospital soon afterwards. Both were prominent figures in the Christian Liberation Movement, which Payá had founded in the late 1980s to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba. The car’s two other occupants, Ángel Carromero Barrios from Spain and Jens Aron Modig from Sweden, survived with minor injuries. According to Carromero, who was driving that day, official state vehicles had been following them for hours when they were suddenly hit from behind. Cuban authorities detained, drugged and threatened Carromero, ultimately forcing him to publicly confirm the official narrative that he had lost control and hit a tree. The investigation and subsequent trial for the killings of Payá and Cepero were carried out with complete disregard to due process guarantees. The prosecution ignored complaints from the Payá family, based on findings they had personally obtained — that government officials had caused the car crash, killing Payá and Cepero. These facts were never made part of the investigation, and the family never had access to the formal autopsy of Payá and Cepero, nor to a transparent and efficient investigation into their deaths.

Left with no possibility of legal recourse in Cuba, Payá and Cepero’s family members turned to the IACHR. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights filed an initial petition on their behalf in 2013.

“Today is an extraordinary day more than ten years in the making,” Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights said. “It has been our honor to represent the Payá and Cepero families in their pursuit of justice and accountability, and it is my sincere hope that this long-awaited verdict brings them some degree of peace and healing.”

Several members of the U.S. Senate also expressed their support for the IACHR decision.

“Thanks to today’s decision by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Cuban regime has been unequivocally exposed for what it truly is: a murderous dictatorship. After a decade of being fed distortions and lies by the Cuban regime, the world finally knows that Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were assassinated by regime officials for their pro-democracy work. It is incumbent upon the United States and international community to rally around the IACHR’s decision and demand not only justice and accountability for Payá and Cepero’s murders, but an end to the ongoing human rights atrocities facing the Cuban people.” said Senator Robert Menendez.

Senator Ted Cruz added that the “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) finding will further highlight the Cuban regime’s responsibility for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. Payá bravely fought for democracy with unrelenting passion and dedication, and in the end paid the ultimate price for standing up to the corrupt Castro regime. Communism is an evil ideology and this finding is a reminder that the crimes of Communist regimes will never be forgotten.”

“At last we have a clear verdict on what was suspected all along. After years of petty and cowardly harassment of Cuban patriot and democracy activist Owaldo Paya, responsibility for his tragic death and that of his colleague Harold Cepero rests with the Cuban dictatorship,” said Senator Dick Durbin. “The culpability for Paya’s death also speaks to the many Cubans who have been and continue to be jailed, harassed, or tortured for simply demanding even a semblance of political or economic freedom. It is long overdue for the Cuban government to honor Paya’s dream for a more open society and to stop blaming the human suffering of the Cuban people on anyone but its own cruel ineptitude, mismanagement, and self-enrichment.” he added.

https://rfkhumanrights.org/inter-american-commission-holds-cuba-responsible-for-the-killing-of-pro-democracy-leaders-oswaldo-pay%C3%A1-and-harold-cepero