WOLA laments the tragic death of Oswaldo Paya, the head of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, who died in an apparent car accident on the afternoon of Sunday, July 22. His colleague, Haroldo Cepero, perished as well. WOLA extends our condolences to their families and friends.
Oswaldo Paya represented a new current in the Cuban political opposition. Motivated by his faith (he was a life-long Catholic), Paya was a vocal critic of restrictions on political freedoms in Cuba. Unlike many of the dissidents who had preceded him, Paya, who first became an activist in the late 1980s, focused on the use of political and constitutional mechanisms to make change in Cuba, rather than on the replacement of the regime. Starting in the late 1990s, he and his supporters gathered thousands of signatures on a petition calling for a national referendum on constitutional reforms in Cuba, which were presented on two occasions in 2002 and 2004. Paya’s position and credibility in Cuba came from his vocal and consistent criticism of the Cuban government, combined with his independence — he opposed the U.S. embargo on Cuba as hurtful to the Cuban people, and he did not personally accept U.S. government funding to maintain himself or continue his work. He helped create an important new space in the Cuban dissident community.
The details of the accident in which Paya and Cepero died (and in which two other passengers, a Swede and a Spaniard, were injured) are not yet clear. WOLA looks forward to a full and careful investigation.