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Pope Francis Hosts Family of Cuban Dissident Oswaldo Payá

By: Elisa Vásquez - @elisavasquez88 - May 14, 2014, 3:38 pm

EspañolOn Wednesday, Pope Francis granted a private audience to the family of Oswaldo Payá, a Cuban dissident and founder of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), who died in 2012 in an automobile accident, the cause of which has not yet been determined.

According to the press release on Payá’s website, the topics discussed with the Pope included “the death of Oswaldo Payá; government repression, especially of the democratic opposition; the Cuban reality and the proposed referendum; and the current situation of the Church in Cuba.” The press release also stated the 20 minute meeting was attended by Payá’s widow, Ofelia Acevedo, and her children Oswaldo J., Rosa María, and Reinaldo Payá.

La familia Payá con el Papa Francisco
Pope Francis I with the Payá family. Source: oswaldopaya.org

After Oswaldo Payá’s death on July 22, 2012, his children continued the political and human rights activism begun by his father, who founded the MCL in 1988 and led a civil movement for constitutional reform in Cuba called Project Varela, for which he was awarded the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament in 2002.

Speaking exclusively to PanAm Post, Rosa María Payá said the pope was aware of the poverty and the deterioration of human rights on the island. “He is looking at what is happening in Cuba and the region with concern and solidarity, and from the perspective of a pastor who is a pastor for everyone. At the same time, he cares about freedom and democracy in our country,” said Payá’s daughter.

She added that she feels it was a blessing to have been received by the pope, considering it recognition of the suffering of Cuban people and an opportunity to speak on behalf of families who have had no voice.

Among the issues raised to Pope Francis was the need to conduct a referendum in Cuba, and the family’s request to launch an independent investigation of the Cuban regime over the alleged attack that killed Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.

Rosa María also stated that they currently expect the foreign service of the European Union to push for this investigation at the United Nations. The European Parliament has approved an amendment calling for the investigation into the deaths of Cepero and Payá. She clarified that the UN already has an open investigation with the Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Crimes, but have not yet received a response.

Speaking to PanAm Post, a representative of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) commended Pope Francis for hosting Payá’s family and said, “The leaders of the democratic world should express their support for the brave Cuban democrats who risk their lives and those of their families to confront a tyrannical government.”

HRF contends that the paradisiacal vision offered by the Cuban government is far from the reality experienced by families like the Payá’s. “Unlike what happens in free and democratic countries, where political opponents are respected and taken as legitimate, in Cuba, there can be no political opposition. Although different civil society groups—subject to systematic abuses, repression, and summary trials—call themselves “political parties,” they have no state recognition to operate freely or run for office. On the contrary, they are featured regularly in state-owned media and called “worms,” ​​”mercenaries,” and “counterrevolutionaries”.

The Cuban World

Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, fundado en 1988 Fuente: www.oswaldopaya.org
Christian Liberation Movement, founded in 1988. Source: www.oswaldopaya.org

On Monday, Zenit published an interview with Ofelia Acevedo in which she reiterated the need to conduct an independent investigation of the crash that killed her husband.

She also offered her perspective on the current situation in Cuba by saying, “Most [Cubans] survive economically thanks to corruption. Cuban cannot develop their own projects for their lives, because in my country, any private initiative may be considered illegal when the government wishes. They live immersed in a culture of fear and social differences are immense. Those that have political power, have all the rights and resources. They are extremely wealthy, while the vast majority of the people have nothing or almost nothing.”

She further denounced what she considers the grave human rights situation on the island, and the inability to have the government address the issue. However, Acevedo has hope that democracy can be achieved in Cuba through a process of liberation and by ridding the island of the fear that has “reduced society and the individual to a state of helplessness.”

“We need to recognize that Cubans are entitled to rights. We want to live in peace on the beautiful land that God gave us. We want to live without fear, without exception, and without lies. We want to participate freely and democratically in political decisions that affect our lives and those of our families. With our collective effort and ingenuity, we can rebuild our country. Cubans are also human beings and we want to count on the solidarity and the brotherhood of people of good will around the world,” said Acevedo.

Rosa María Payá added that her family will try and make other visits to leaders of the Holy See.

Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.

Elisa Vásquez Elisa Vásquez

Elisa Vásquez is a Venezuelan journalist with experience covering social and community topics. Her specialty is human rights education and international solidarity. She reports from Panama City. Follow her on Twitter @elisavasquez88.