Tribute to Harold Cepero at the 2013 Democracy Award

Presented by NED President Carl Gershman

According to a fellow democracy activist who knew him well, the late Harold Cepero was driven by three fundamental values: compassion for the persecuted and the needy; a thirst for the truth; and an ability to forgive those who had mistreated him.

Born into a humble family in Camaguey, Cuba’s third largest city, Harold was drawn to the local Catholic Church when he was in high school.

“My calling is to fight for my people,” he told his friends, knowing the dangerous consequences of independent social and political activism in totalitarian Cuba.

His activism took the form of working on the Varela Project—a citizen petition movement calling for a popular referendum to establish the foundation for a democratic system in Cuba.

An initiative spearheaded by the Christian Liberation Movement led by Oswaldo Paya, the Varela Project collected over 25,000 signatures, a clear challenge to Cuba’s dictatorship. As a result of his work on this landmark initiative, Harold was expelled from university for being a “non-revolutionary” and an opponent of the Castro regime.

The Communist Party organized Harold’s fellow students for an act of repudiation against him. When many of them later apologized, he expressed no rancor toward them but rather extended to them a hand of forgiveness and understanding, calling on them to live in truth.

Harold was deeply convinced that what he was doing was the right thing. He had the serenity that comes from a deep sense of mission.

He entered the seminary with the intention of becoming a priest, but he eventually returned to the Christian Liberation Movement, a decision that would ultimately cost him his life.

Last July 22nd, when he and Paya, along with two young Christian Democrats from Europe, were travelling in eastern Cuba to meet with other activists, their car was rammed from behind by a red Lada with government license plates, according to the account later given by the Spanish driver. Both Harold and Paya were killed, though exactly how they died is still not known and can only be determined by an independent investigation. 

Next Monday marks the first anniversary of what appears to have been a terrible crime that took the lives of two of these two valiant and noble individuals.

 A friend of Harold’s recalls that on an organizing trip for his Movement, the two of them were once at a bus station when a hungry man asked for money to buy food. Although they themselves had very little, Harold not only gave him his own spending money but also brought the man to the table to sit and eat with them. Such was his compassion and generosity of spirit.

Harold has been called “a sunrise for the Cuban nation.”

For his selfless devotion to the struggle for a free and democratic Cuba, and in memory of the goodness that he brought to the world, the National Endowment for Democracy is proud to present its 2013 Democracy Award, posthumously, to the late Harold Cepero.

I would now like to call upon Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, to receive this tribute on Harold’s behalf.