Rosa Maria Paya, one of Cuba’s leading human rights and democracy activists and the daughter of the late Oswaldo Paya, addresses the 8th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On dictatorship in Cuba:
“Let me tell you that as a young Cuban woman, me and many like me are now struggling to live and love in a decent inclusive and prosperous 21st century society.”
“The last iron curtain must fall, and it must fall now.”
“Dictatorships do not have political colors, they are just dictatorships.”
“Cuba is now the country that many Cubans do not want to experience.”
Thank you for this opportunity to spread the voice of the Cuban people. Cubans have lived for nearly 60 years without the freedom to express our own voice. The revolution of 1959 immediately suppressed freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, as they are totalitarian tools to remain in power forever. This oppression came with the repression and the violence, as illustrated by the long list of extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Cuban authorities. In this moment, I would like to take a second to remember and honor the memory of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, political prisoner who died exactly five years ago during a hunger strike in a Cuban prison. My prayers are also with the four innocent pilots from the organization Brother to the Rescue shot down in international waters by the Cuban military on February 24, 20 years ago.
Now, in February 2016, the same violators of human rights are still ruling on the island. Even more dangerous, this corporate military elite is involved in a fake transition, not to democracy but to legitimize their total control upon the Cuban society with the renewed image for the international public opinion in order to attract foreign investors and financial credits. This combination of the war of Communists and the words of concern is leading my country to a dynastic estate capitalism, a Castro capitalism, like my father, Oswaldo Payá, warned in a book that is going to be published very soon. It is a system where the historical generation and their descendants have monopolized all the economic resources of Cuba, while they keep sequestered the political sovereignty of our citizenry, condemning an entire people to the economy and social scarcity because the absence of human rights prevents Cubans from managing themselves. This is a Cuba where the European Union and the United States expect to make profit, maybe with the justification that at some point, there will be an empowerment of the civil society.
This empowerment hasn’t happened, not because of foreign policy, but because of a totalitarian state that does not recognize legal personality to any Cuban citizen, and therefore no one can be loaned or own a business, or belong to a civil association, or to a political party other than the Communist Party. We do not believe that what hasn’t happened in China or in Uzbekistan during decades is now magically going to happen in a dictator in Cuba. My father, Oswaldo Payá, founding leader of the Christian liberation movement and winner of the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament, denounced this operation of the regime as fraudulent change. He paid with his life for his peaceful activism to achieve the real prize that belongs to the Cuban people. On July 22, 2012, my father and my dear friend Harold Cepero were extrajudicially executed by agents of the political police staging a car crash that never took place in a location of Cuba that is still undetermined.
Not satisfied with this double crime, my family was threatened to death and forced into exile, in order to carry on with more safety, our life, and our struggle for a free Cuba. But we do not belong to exile, and I refuse to remain in exile, treated as a stranger by the Cuban government and their despotic bureaucracy, including the new embassy in Washington DC where they didn’t even open the door for me. Next February 29, my father would be 64 years old. Our friends and I, in person, will be there back in Havana in a Thanksgiving mass for his life. Death is not more powerful than love, and the legacy of my father Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero is full of love for life in a free Cuba. Many Cuban lives are still at risk. This is why we are now trying to open an independent investigation to stop the impunity, to find out how my father Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were murdered in Cuba, and a special report was released by Human Rights Foundation were all evidence indicated that this was a crime, a crime against humanity with the involvement of the Cuban authorities. We’ll never give up on justice because we deserve justice and because there cannot be the conciliation without the recognition of the whole truth and a nation that pretends to forget the violence against its innocent people will remain a captive nation. And it will be a nation condemned to suffer such violence over and over again.
Sadly, Cuba is now the country that many Cubans do not want to experience. My people are selling their houses to escape to Central America or boarding a raft to reach the United States, but I’m not here just to tell you about our tragic history. I’m here to ask you to support the Cuban people in our struggle to change our history. Today, it is my honor to be part of the Latin American Youth network for Democracy. We coordinate efforts in 20 countries to preserve and to rescue the democratic values that have been compromised in many parts of our continent because of corruption, because of authoritarians, but also because of the interference of the Havana regime, as in the case of Venezuela. So, it is time for Cubans to decide our own destiny and to stop being the subjects of official agendas and secret ballots between governments. It is time to put an end to the impunity of the Cuban government, which has never been chosen by Cubans in free, fair, and pluralistic elections. This is why more and more Cubans are now saying “yes” to a citizen initiative that claims for plebiscite in Cuba through a national and international campaign called Cuba Decide. Totalitarian and post-totalitarian systems cannot coexist with the idea of the people deciding by themselves. And this is why, and this is precisely what Cuba decides it stands for. In order to initiate a true transition on the island, Cuba must open to our own citizens who have the right to decide the system we want to live in after almost 60 years of unconsented government. In this, we need all your support to spread the liberation message of Cuba Decide and for all Cubans finally to decide our own future.
But by democratizing our country, we wouldn’t need to become and we do not become another failed, corrupt nation. This fatalism is another fallacy of the regime. A lie repeated by many academics in the free world. Let me tell you that, as a young Cuban woman, me and many like me, we are now struggling to live and love in a decent, inclusive, and prosperous 21st century society. Please, join us in this effort to return sovereignty to the citizenry, to give power to the people and not to the powerful. The last iron curtain must fall, and if it must fall now. Freedom is indivisible, and “when one man is enslaved, all men are not free” said President John F. Kennedy in his speech at the Berlin Wall. “Dictatorship did not have political colors, they are just dictatorships, ” said my father until his life was taken from him and from all Cubans. Dear friends, the Cuban people are not a monolith to the image and likeness of the Communist Party, the only one legal according to the current constitution. In this new era of normalization with Cuba, the table of negotiations should contribute to a true transition and not to the interest of a general in power. We Cubans do not need that European Union or the United States to solve our problems.
But, we need them to be coherent and to support the right to decide of the Cuban people through a plebiscite using all the channels available. We are Latin Americans, but we believe in the best principles of North America too. We are Caribeans, but we stand for the best values of Europe too. We are Cubans, but we are with Asian and African struggling for a better life ,despite the rhetoric of a fractionary regime.
Let us not forget that we Cubans are not less than human, and each and every one of the universal human rights applies to us as much as to anyone in the world. No man is an island, and no nation is an island. As my father used to say “help us to globalize solidarity or human rights will be always in danger.”
God bless you all. Thank you so much.