Slain Dissident’s Daughter Demands Answers
By Travis LaCouter
Blog: Victims of Communism - Dissident
July 23, 2015
- Paya’s role in building a democratic Cuba was as great as any activist in Cuba’s history
- Cuban authorities have still refused to show Paya’s family the results of an autopsy.
This week at Georgetown University the daughter of late Cuban human rights activist Oswaldo Payá spoke about her father’s legacy on the third-year anniversary of his death. Rosa Maria Payá declared with striking clarity her belief that the car crash which killed her father three years ago to the day “was not an accident.” At the same event, a pair of international attorneys detailed the findings of an extensive new report released by the Human Rights Foundation that substantiates Rosa Maria’s claim, concluding that the automobile wreck that killed Paya was “directly caused by agents of the State.”
National Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman moderated the event, sponsored by the Human Rights Foundation, and explained how the death of Payá at the hands of the Cuban government was as if the South African government had killed Nelson Mandela or the Czech regime had assassinated Vaclav Havel. Payá’s role in building a democratic Cuba, and the potential he had to lead a society-wide anti-Castro movement, was as great as any activist in Cuba’s history.
“From the very beginning,” Gershman said, “we knew what happened,” referring to the 2012 car crash. According to Gershman, Payá was “a very great man who stood for something very important: peace, nonviolence, human rights, a new way for Cuban people. He tried to find a democratic way out of the totalitarian system.” Today the inheritors of Payá’s cause must “mourn him, remember him,” but also, more importantly, they must realize that “the way forward for the Cuban people is through the path set forth by Oswaldo Payá.”
Rosa Maria Payá, who has taken up her father’s mantle as a tireless campaigner for political rights in Cuba, insisted that “solidarity must be globalized” if Cubans can ever hope to see a authentic transition to democracy. The Cuban people desperately need the support of Western democracies; in fact, Rosa Maria suggested, the Cuban government “would not have ordered the attack [on Oswaldo Payá] if the democratic centers of Europe and America had not been looking the other way.”
When human rights and political development are considered second-rate priorities by the leading Western powers, dissidents die.
Human Rights Foundation general counsel Javier El-Hage and legal associate Roberto C. González then spelled out some of the basic findings of the investigation into the death of Oswaldo Payá (as well as Harold Cepero, who was also killed in the crash) and the subsequent sham trial of Angel Carromero, a young Spanish activist driving the car Payá was in. The report, sponsored by the Human Rights Foundation, found systematic violations of the rights of the Payá family as legal next of kin during the investigation into Oswaldo’s death. The authorities “never informed the family on how the investigation was being carried out … never made the family a part of the investigation proceedings … [nor] did [they] inform [the Payá family] of the results of any [investigative] process.” The Paya family didn’t even learn about Oswaldo’s death from the police—they had to hear about the tragedy from friends who called them with the news.
In fact, today, three years later, Cuban authorities have still refused to show Payá’s family the results of an autopsy.
Similarly, during the trial of Angel Carromero, an associate of Payá’s who was arrested and charged for the car crash, Cuban prosecutors made a mockery of internationally accepted standards of due process and legal fairness. Carromero was denied a lawyer for several weeks after his arrest and, when he finally received a lawyer, was unable to communicate with her freely. “The room where we met was bugged and it had a one way mirror,” Carromero told independent investigators, and if at any time Carromero talked with his lawyer about what actually happened on July 22 guards would terminate the meeting. (Not that it would have made much difference if Angel were able to talk to his counsel freely, because in Cuba all attorneys must swear to “defend, preserve, and be faithful to the principles of … [the] Revolution … and the commander in Chief Fidel Castro.”)
Carromero’s attorneys were denied access to the case file and copies of all relevant evidence. Basic chain of evidence rules were violated throughout the trial, as when authorities seized, washed, and packaged Payá’s bloody clothes before returning them to his family, preventing them from seeking independent forensic analysis. According to the HRF report, “it was a proceeding where all the parties (prosecution, judge, or defense counsel) directed their efforts towards legitimizing the official government version of the events.”
Eventually, Carromero was forced to tape a self-incriminatory confession under “physical and psychological pressure” and was convicted in a trial that not even his own children were allowed to witness.
To this day, countless facts of the case remain hidden from public knowledge because they have been “actively obscured by the State.” But the simple fact remains—as Carromero, other eye-witnesses, and the independent report all attest—that on July 22, 2012, a car bearing Cuban government license plates ran Oswaldo Payá’s car off the road, killing two people.
As Ofelia Acevedo, Oswaldo’s widow, said in a statement in August 2012, there is no reason to believe the official version of events. The same Cuban state security agencies that deemed the crash an accident were the ones who spied constantly on Payá and his family and friends, harassed his children and mother, organized angry mobs to attack his home, threatened the lives of members of Payá’s organization, and just months previously ran Payá and his wife off the road in a similar car accident.
The same communist government that orchestrated a lifelong, and eventually life-ending, campaign of intimidation and harassment against Cuba’s leading human rights activist is now being rewarded by the United States with near-full diplomatic recognition and increased trade privileges. This new phase in Cuba-U.S. relations is a slap in the face to Cuban dissidents like Paya and his daughter. And Payá’s story is, sadly, not unique. Brave Cuban dissidents like Guillermo Farinas, who has launched some 23 hunger strikes against the government, stand ready to sacrifice their lives for the cause of freedom in Cuba. Others, like Ladies in White founder Laura Inés Pollán, have already died under suspicious circumstances, which many attribute to the Castro regime. Yet Washington policy-makers seem all too willing to overlook these human rights violations.
Today, three years after Oswaldo Payá’s tragic and untimely death, VOC stands with his daughter and all others seeking the truth. And we continue to call for the expansion of political rights and democratic government in Cuba until such a time as the Communist Party of Cuba can no longer terrorize the Cuban people.