Source: The Freedom Collection www.freedomcollection.org / By Lindsay Lloyd
Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, one of Cuba’s most outspoken and prominent dissidents, was killed in an automobile accident in eastern Cuba on July 22. The circumstances surrounding his death are not yet clear. The Cuban Foreign Ministry stated that the driver lost control of the vehicle; opposition groups on the island have said that the car was forced off the road by another car. Whatever the circumstances, a great voice for freedom has been silenced.
Oswaldo Paya was a man of deep religious convictions. His Catholic faith led him to becoming active in Cuban political life. He cofounded the Christian Liberation Movement in 1988, a broad based organization committed to promoting human rights. He later organized the Varela Project, named for Father Felix Varela, a 19th century Cuban priest who worked for human rights and Cuban independence. The Varela Project collected Cuban citizens’ signatures demanding a referendum to institute basic freedoms and human rights.
Paya and his colleagues in the Christian Liberation Movement continued to peacefully advocate for greater freedom in Cuba. His efforts were recognized when he received the European Parliament’s prestigious Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002. Paya was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the late Czech President Vaclav Havel.
In accepting the Sakharov Prize, Paya said, “It is our wish that violence and force should never be used as ways of overcoming crises or toppling unjust governments. This time we shall bring about change by means of this civic movement which is already opening a new chapter in Cuba’s history, in which dialogue, democratic involvement, and solidarity will prevail. Cuba’s civic combatant heroes – the ordinary people who have signed the Varela Project – carry no weapons. Not a single hand is armed.”
Throughout his life, Oswaldo Paya remained committed to nonviolent change in his homeland. He wrote in 2009, “There is no secret: We Cubans want peace, reconciliation among all of us, and friendship with all peoples. We want to build a more fair and humane society; we want rights, all the rights; and we want freedom.”