The Moral Universe Is with Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero


EspañolI have not lost faith. I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Ebenezer Baptist Church, April 30, 1967.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. (Cuban Exile Quarter)

Today marks two years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were last seen alive before a car crash at 1:50pm EST on July 22, 2012. The Sunday afternoon incident involved a second vehicle, driven by Cuban state security.

The moment that I learned of what happened is burned into my memory, as if it were yesterday. In the two years since, the Payá family and members of the Christian Liberation Movement have sought through all channels available to push for an international investigation into the deaths of these two activists.

The Washington Post editorial board, on the eve of the two year anniversary, published what is now known publicly:

The car spun out of control after being rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing state license plates, according to Mr. Carromero. While he and the associate from Sweden survived, Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero were killed. Mr. Carromero says he was then coerced to confess and subjected to a rigged trial in order to cover up what really happened. Mr. Carromero’s videotaped “confession,” broadcast on television, was forced upon him; he was told to read from cards written by the state security officers. He was sentenced to four years in prison for vehicular homicide and later released to return to Spain to serve out his term.

The cover up of this extrajudicial killing carried out by the Cuban state security service has crumbled. Eventually a regional or international human rights body will produce a credible and independent report on the events that transpired on July 22, 2012, and hold the Cuban government responsible. The facts surrounding what happened are in the public domain, so can be legally analyzed and judged based on their merits. Respected international leaders, Nobel prize winners Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa among them, have called for an international investigation.

It won’t be the first time.

Nine days ago, the world marked 20 years since the attack and sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat on July 13, 1994, that claimed 37 lives. There was an investigation on the merits.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a report released on October 16, 1996, concluded that what transpired that early morning “was not an accident but rather a premeditated, intentional act” by agents of the Cuban government. They hold the Cuban State responsible for violating the right to life of all the people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of the 13 de Marzo.

These events occurred just seven miles off the Cuban coast on July 13, 1994. Nevertheless, two decades later, the men responsible, despite being identified, have not been held accountable in a court of law.

Three years later the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on September 29, 1999, released a report on the February 24, 1996, Brothers-to-the-Rescue shoot down. They concluded that “Cuba is responsible for violating the right to life … to the detriment of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre, who died as a result of the direct actions of its agents on the afternoon of 24 February 1996 while flying through international airspace.”

The Cuban state lost a civil judgement to the families of the victims in US courts. A Cuban spy, Gerardo Hernandez, was also arrested in 1998 and sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder for his role. Nevertheless, the men who gave the orders and pressed the trigger that blew two civilian planes out of the sky have yet to be held accountable in a court of law.

In the meantime, Cubans and friends of freedom around the world are remembering the legacy of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. Masses are planned in Havana, Madrid, and Miami, to give thanks for their lives and their nonviolent legacy that continues to demonstrate that love is stronger than hate. Across social media, people of goodwill are making the sign of Liberation and displaying two candles in memory of Oswaldo and Harold.

Despite harassment and death threats against the Payá family that forced them to seek refuge in exile and rising repression — including machete attacks against members of the Christian Liberation Movement — the movement has continued on the island to carry on Oswaldo’s legacy of nonviolent resistance. The Payá family and the Christian Liberation Movement in the diaspora have continued together to support their counterparts in Cuba and lead the struggle for justice for Oswaldo and Harold.


It is said that justice delayed is justice denied, and where a statue of limitations is involved that may be true. But when it comes to murder, only a few countries, such as Colombia and until recently Japan, have an end date to pursue murderers. Cuba does not have such a provision.

In the case of the Czech Republic, one of the most notorious cases is that of Milada Horakova. She was hanged with three others in Prague’s Pankrac Prison, as a spy and traitor to the Communist Czechoslovakian government, on June 27, 1950, after a show trial. That same prosecutor who presided over the show trial faced trial for murder 57 years later, and was found guilty and jailed.

Reverend King is right “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” History has already condemned these crimes, and it is highly probable that a court of justice will eventually do so as well. Keep the faith, do not despair, and continue to show your solidarity with victims of repression.

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