Oswaldo Payá, a great human rights activist and a champion of freedom and liberty for the Cuban people, died on July 22nd in a fatal car crash.
Although Payá’s name was not well known in the United States, he spent decades under constant threat in Cuba, trying to transform his native country through nonviolent action. The 60-year-old medical equipment engineer was inspired at a young age by his Roman Catholic faith and the events of the Prague Spring of 1968 to overcome his government’s intimidation tactics and build the Varela Project—his nation’s first widespread domestic opposition movement. As the driving force behind the Varela Project, a grassroots petition drive that worked within constitutional channels and collected more than 25,000 signatures in favor of expanding basic freedoms, Payá exemplified a thoughtful, inclusive, and home-grown approach to challenging the Cuban state.
Payá, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, not only inspired thousands of his fellow citizens but also earned the praise of the international community. In 2002 the European Union honored his “decisive contribution to the fight” with its most esteemed human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. That same year the National Democratic Institute recognized “his courageous and steadfast commitment to fundamental human rights” with its W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award.
I met Payá and his wife at their Havana home in 2005. The house was under constant surveillance, both electronically and by ever-present security personnel in the street outside. My colleagues and I spoke to the Payás in whispers while music blared through the house in what was probably a futile attempt to stop the conversation from being overheard by the Cuban government.
Although undeterred by the personal intimidation, Payá was pained by the costs to his children who, at the behest of their government, were shunned by friends and denied university access. Nevertheless, Payá was determined to see change come to Cuba though peaceful, nonviolent action. Despite the oppression, he never lost his faith or his hope.
We mourn Payá’s death, but his legacy lives on in Cuba, around the world, and at the Center for American Progress.
John Podesta is Chair and Counselor of the Center for American Progress.
Temp agencies, ‘raiteros’ exploit undocumented
Ty Inc. became one of the world's largest manufacturers of stuffed animals thanks to the Beanie Babies craze in the 1990s.
But it has stayed on top partly by using an underworld of labor brokers known as raiteros, who pick up workers from Chicago's street corners and shuttle them to Ty's ...
ASSET Bill: ‘People do believe in humanity’
Moments after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the ASSET bill at the Student Success Building on the Metropolitan State University Denver campus this week, a beaming President Stephen Jordan went to the microphone and put an exclamation point on an historic event.
“ASSET,” he proclaimed to ...
Citizenship must reflect more humane principles
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) finds the immigration bill introduced last week a modest start on reform, due to provisions that address family unification and workers’ rights and create a narrow path to citizenship for some immigrants. But much of the bill reproduces many of the ...
Communities of color face higher environmental risks
This week we celebrate Earth Day, an international campaign for environmental awareness and protection. While this is a time to celebrate our planet, we are also reminded of the great environmental risks facing communities of color and their resilience to protect both the planet and their ...