Celebrate the life of Oswaldo Payá and the fight for freedom from Communism in Cuba that continues in full force even today
July is an important month for everyone that lives in the United States because on July the 4th we celebrate “Independence Day”. Independence is something many of us take for granted because we have it but it is a luxury the people of Cuba are still praying for till this day.
On the one year anniversary of the Cuban protests that ocurred on July 11, 2021 at an event organized by political activist Alejandro Otaola that took place in the Bay of Pigs Monument Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz proclaimed July 11, 2022 “ANTI-COMMUNISM DAY” in Miami-Dade County. He was joined onstage by Commissioner’s Joe Carollo and Manolo Reyes. The proclamation was presented to Rosa Maria Payá daughter of Oswaldo Payá and founder of CUBADECIDE.org.
In this first edition of July 2022 we celebrate the life and work of Oswaldo Payá and the path he paved for thousands of others in demanding a fairer, more equal life, a better future for their children, and basic human necessities for survival. We’re also talking about the seeds Payá sowed and how they came to in the mass protests across Cuba that erupted on July 11, 2021, as that historic event completes one year.
Currently, Cuba is hit with one of the worst humanitarian, political, social, and economic crises in the world, and despite decades of fighting the Communism and regime, change is still slow to arrive. However, today, we shift the focus from the pain and struggle of the Cuban people to their resilience.
Who was the Cuban revolutionary Oswaldo Payá?
Oswaldo Payá was a revolutionary and visionary who changed the face of grassroots politics and dissent against Communism and the regime in Cuba.
Founder of the Christian Liberation Movement and the main organizer of the Valera Project, he was vehemently and publicly critical of Cuba’s one-party rule. He stood for freedom of speech and more human and political rights that had been trampled under the militant regime, presence of the secret police, and general socio-political atmosphere.
He had also been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament in 2002 and was a well-respected activist across the world.
Payá was always active on the political forefront since he was a teenager, and was sent to Castro’s forced labor camps. He went on to mobilize and galvanize Catholic Church leaders in Cuba and circulated a newsletter demanding human and political rights. Despite being told to stop, by the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union propelled Cuba into economic instability and collapse, Oswaldo was in the limelight for his activism.
Through his work, eventually, he managed to acquire over 10,000 signatures for a major legislative document, known as the Varela Project, that demanded change, shocking the regime. He was threatened, he was ordered to stop, and he was given every reason not to continue, yet he did.
He had a network of nuns helping him, as well as family, such as his Aunt Beba, who helped conceal and allowed him to work out of her home. Even as the secret state security and police threatened signatories and citizens, the people were on his side and ready for change.
The regime tried to use subterfuge to sabotage his efforts as well, but he and his trusted associates managed to make the impossible, possible.
He worked for the people and opposed Castro’s regime for years and was actually on his way to training young activists on July 22, 2012, when he was tragically killed in a car crash. Many believe that this crash was orchestrated by the regime in an attempt to thwart his efforts.
But the seeds that Payá and many more like him had sown had begun to sprout over the coming decade, and just shy of his 9th death anniversary, Cuba saw one of the biggest eruptions of mass protests in its history.
July 11, 2021, hundreds of thousands of Cuban citizens took to the streets demanding a change of regime, protesting against the lack of food, jobs, electricity, clean water, and violation of other humanitarian needs. The movement’s slogans centered around COVID vaccinations, food, and much more, the popular song “Patria y Vida” also became the anthem. The protests, which were organized and planned through a Facebook group by several grassroots activists, were primarily peaceful, quiet, yet powerful enough to shock authorities.
As people marched during protests that started in San Antonio de los Baños and 30 other cities in the country, things quickly got violent and disruptive, and a person was even killed. This is also suspected to be a tactic by the regime.
Sadly, however, the momentum died down despite how ferociously it started out and spread across social media, and many of the activists behind the protests have been charged and imprisoned.
International leaders, including Biden criticized the country calling it a failed state, which was also met with criticism over media manipulation and hypocrisy since many feel much of the economic hardship in Cuba was due to the U.S. imposed sanctions. However, these sanctions will be eased soon, according to reports.
As we complete one year since the July 11 protests, Cubans wait with bated breath for change. Despite how grim the current situation and how the initial movement seems to have fizzled out, the spark of change and want for revolution has been ignited.
The future of Cuba may be uncertain, but Oswaldo Payá’s powerful statement leaves us with much to think about:
“Liberation is born from the soul, through a stroke of lightning that God gives to Cubans.”Owaldo Payá
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