Apr 9, 2013

Sponsor: NED

Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba:

The Legacy of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas

An article about this event appeared in the Washington Post on April 9th. Read the editorial, "Oswaldo Payá’s fight for a democratic Cuba lives on." :: MORE

Summary of the event

View photos from the event :: more

“There are enough Russias and Chinas in the world...we want to participate in the design of our future...that is why the majority of the Cuban democratic movement inside and outside of Cuba is supporting the path of the people.”
- Rosa María Payá Acevedo

“Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba: The Legacy of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas” was the theme of an April 9 discussion co-hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

The discussion featured Payá’s daughter Rosa María Payá Acevedo, with comments by Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post and Santiago Cantón of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. NED President Carl Gershman and NDI President Ken Wollack also made brief remarks.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was the founder and leader of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement and its Varela Project, which captured widespread attention in Cuba and internationally, calling for a popular referendum to establish the foundation for a democratic system in the country. Payá’s death in a car crash last July was mourned by democracy advocates worldwide.

“My father Oswaldo Payá and [youth activist] Harold Cepero dedicated their lives to fighting for democracy in Cuba,” Ms. Payá said.

Ms. Payá is still involved in the Christian Liberation Movement and has been traveling around Europe and the United States to build international solidarity for democrats in Cuba and calling for an investigation into the death of her father.

The Washington Post has been one of the few publications to cover the car crash that resulted in Payá and Cepero’s death, and also called for an investigation of the crash. Angel Carromero, a leader of Spain’s ruling party and the driver of the car which crashed, told the Washington Post in an interview that the car was struck from behind just before the accident and that he was heavily drugged by Cuban authorities when he appeared to admit to reckless driving.

During the Q&A, Hiatt emphasized the likelihood of foul play in the crash: “Anybody who looks at the photograph of the car in which [Payá] died and sees how the back is completely pancaked and the front is basically undamaged, and the two people in the front were not hurt and the two people in the back were killed and then listens to the Cuban explanation that this was a [single] car crash in which the car went front-end into a tree...the people who need to clear their name are not living in Spain right now.”

Commenting on the prospects for a democratic future in Cuba, Ms. Paya said, “There are enough Russias and Chinas in the world...we want to participate in the design of our future.

“That is why the majority of the Cuban democratic movement inside and outside of Cuba is supporting the path of the people.”

Ms. Paya stressed that Cuba has the capacity, resources and imagination to create a prosperous nation but are without the human rights required to make those progressive steps.

“What we need is democracy,” she said.

Cantón said the protection of human rights could be advanced through building a stronger civil society sector in Cuba and complimented the work of Ms. Payá and others who promote civil society on the island.

Cantón said the Cuban government has been successful at concealing human rights violations in Cuba. He added that the Cuban government use articles in the penal code and the Constitution of Cuba, which violate human rights, to suppress the rights of its citizens. He cited Article 73 of the penal code which classifies individuals exhibiting “anti-social conduct” as dangerous, allowing for their detention.

Cubans faces inherent challenges to promoting human rights and democratic development—the Cuban people have neither basic freedom of expression nor an ability to do business or travel freely. Cuban people face a fear of violence and arbitrary arrest, are without an independent judicial system, and live under laws created to restrict people’s political participation.

But Ms. Payá remains hopeful about the future of Cuba.

“It is time for the truth, it is time for democracy, and it is the time for liberation,” she said; her statement drew resounding applause from the audience.

For more on this event and Oswaldo Payá:

About Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas

As the founder and leader of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, the late Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was an unwavering advocate for democracy and human rights.

In 2002, the Christian Liberation Movement’s Varela Project captured widespread attention, both in Cuba and internationally, as it called for a popular referendum to establish the foundation for a democratic system in the country. With more than 25,000 Cuban citizens publicly signing the petition, the Varela Project became one of the most creative challenges to totalitarian rule in Cuba.

Throughout his life, Oswaldo Paya served as a consistent voice for pluralism, national reconciliation and respect for human rights, and placed these principles at the forefront of his efforts to bring democracy to the island.

His tragic and untimely death in July 2012 increasingly has raised questions in the international community and, at the same time, galvanized support for the ideals that he stood for. 

About the speakers

Rosa María Payá Acevedo is the daughter of the late leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, MCL) and founder of the Varela Project, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas. Rosa María has spent the last month in Europe where she spoke before the United Nations Human Rights Council and with members of the European Parliament in Brussels on the situation of democracy and human rights in Cuba. Rosa María is currently traveling to the United States to deliver the key-note address to a conference hosted by the Cuban-American youth group Roots of Hope (Raíces de Esperanza) in New York.

Santiago Cantón was the former Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States.

Fred Hiatt is the author of Nine Days (Random House, publication April 9), a thriller for young adults inspired in part by the true story of dissident Wang Bingzhang and his daughter’s efforts to win his freedom from Chinese prison.