NEW YORK (July 22, 2022) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) joins the Cuban civil society in honoring the life and legacy of Oswaldo Payá on the 10th anniversary of his death. Payá was the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and founder of the Varela Project, a citizen-led initiative that gathered signatures for a legislative proposal aimed at bringing back democracy and protecting basic liberties in Cuba. The initiative was a great success, obtaining more than 10,000 signatures. Unfortunately, it elicited massive retaliation from Fidel Castro and the ruling Communist Party. Many of the leaders of Payá’s movement were targeted by the regime during the Black Spring of 2003 — a brutal wave of repression that sent dozens of pro-democracy activists and intellectuals to prison, in some cases for several years. Payá himself continued to be harassed by the Castro dictatorship, which eventually led to his death on July 22, 2012.
The Most Prominent Cuban Pro-democracy Dissident
“Ten years have passed since the loss of the man who best embodied the peaceful struggle for democracy and freedom in Cuba. Oswaldo Payá was the most prominent Cuban pro-democracy dissident at the time of his death, and he was killed under suspicion of foul play in the Western Hemisphere’s last remaining military dictatorship,” said HRF Chief Advocacy Officer Roberto González. “The Cuban dictatorship, first under Fidel Castro and later under his brother Raúl, brutally persecuted Payá for demanding basic rights for his fellow citizens. For this Payá paid the ultimate price. Sadly, the regime, now under Castro’s lackey, Miguel Díaz-Canel, is still using the same cruel tactics it used against Payá as it carries out the worst campaign of repression against civil society in the past 20 years.”
Although the regime actively obfuscated the investigation into Payá’s death, an exhaustive legal report by HRF concluded that his death was likely deliberately caused by State security forces who were surveilling him. To this day, his family continues to seek justice and promote democracy and human rights in Cuba. His daughter, Rosa María Payá, a former Oslo Freedom speaker, leads the citizen movement Cuba Decide, a pro-democracy organization that builds on the work of the Varela Project. Rosa María continues to work tirelessly not only to realize her father’s vision of a free Cuba, but also to launch an impartial investigation into his death to finally obtain justice and closure.
“As dire as the situation seems in Cuba today, we can take solace in the fact that Oswaldo Payá’s vision is still alive and well, as evidenced by the bravery of thousands of Cubans who have stood up to the tyranny of the regime, particularly in the past year,” said González. “Today, on the anniversary of Payá’s death, we call on the democratic world to honor his legacy and stand with all the Cuban’s who continue echoing his calls for a democratic transition and the respect of basic rights in their country.”
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For media inquiries or interview requests, please email [email protected].