US Officials Must Keep Their Eyes on the Prize in Cuba

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson made a historic visit to Cuba, but serious doubts about real democracy and stability on the island remain.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson made an historic visit to Cuba, but serious doubts remain regarding any prospect for democracy and stability on the island. (OAS)


At the time of writing, I’ve been in Washington, DC, for 12 hours: just enough to accept Senator Marco Rubio’s kind invitation to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech with him.

It’s winter here, but dusk saw a warm glow fall on the nation’s capital. In Capitol Hill I had the chance to speak with several Democrat and Republican legislators on Cuban affairs. I told them two points, in particular, which continue to be crucial when weighing up the developing talks between the United States and Cuba.

First, the United States is holding high-level talks with a government that has not been elected by its citizens. We therefore expect that support for a referendum on the current Cuban regime, demanded by thousands of Cubans who want free and plural elections, will soon be put on the table.

Second, US officials have repeatedly backed the need for an independent investigation into the deaths of my father, Oswaldo Payá, a recipient of the European Union’s Andrei Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought, and Harold Cepero, a leader of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement. This matter should be discussed with the Cuban government now, because the opportunity to make a formal request exists through new official channels.

On my flight back from DC, I ran across Roberta Jacobson, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. I came up to her immediately and she stood up to greet me.

“Going back home or just to Miami?” she asked me. “To Miami,” I told her, remembering at the same time that it’s been over a year since I returned to my home in Havana. The last time I was there, next to Manila park in the El Cerro district, state security forces attacked my brothers in the street, and called me with death threats.

Jacobson was heading to Havana to meet Cuban officials. One of them was intelligence agent Gustavo Machaín, who in July 2012 orchestrated the sham press conference given by Aron Modig, the Swedish activist who was with my father at the moment of his death. Aron was held without charges in solitary confinement, and after the press conference, Machaín, ignoring our families’ requests to meet with him, expelled Aron from the country.

Aron was traveling in the same car as my father the day the Cuban regime attacked him, and state security forces kidnapped him immediately after the vehicle was driven off the road.

I asked Jacobson if the holding of an independent investigation would be part of talks with the Cuban government. “This is a point that we always raise,” she replied, nodding.

She also told me officials from both countries planned to discuss human rights on the island. She spoke to me casually, as if she wasn’t traveling to the heart of the world’s longest dictatorship to meet criminal agents, some of whom have even served as spies on US soil.

The Cuban government lied to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions when it demanded explanations about my father’s death. After more than two years, Cuban authorities still deny us access to the autopsy report, which the family has a right to, even according to Cuban law.

On Friday at the White House I will meet with Ricardo Zúñiga, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. I hope by then that he has some news from the Cuban government on the request made by Roberta Jacobson about an investigation into that fateful day in 2012, which our family long feared but prayed would never come.

The United States, and free nations around the world, should know that there will be no democracy or real stability in Cuba until the truth comes to light about this, and other atrocities, carried out in the name of the mythologized “revolution.”

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

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