July 23, 2012 3:10PM

The Death of Cuban Dissidents

Prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya was killed in a car crash in Cuba yesterday. Also killed was another critic of the regime, Harold Cepero, a friend of my current Cuban intern, Yuri Perez. Many dissidents believe that the deaths came at the hands of the Castro regime. If so, the incident may represent a chilling hardening of Raul Castro’s dictatorship at a time when the country’s social and economic problems are mounting and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the meager reforms announced so far will do little to solve them.

Below, Yuri describes the importance of Paya and the life of his friend Harold, who, like Yuri, was expelled from his university for criticizing the regime. There is in fact a whole generation of young Cuban activists and intellectuals who despite the repression are stimulating serious debate outside of officialdom about their country’s problems and how to solve them. (Two Cuban websites in English that I recommend are Translating Cuba and State of SATS). All of us at Cato are inspired by the dedication of Yuri and his compatriots to a free Cuba.

The Loss of Two Brothers

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On July 22, prominent Cuban prodemocracy leader Oswaldo Paya and activist Harold Cepero were killed in a car accident while on a trip to the east of Cuba. According to blogger Yoani Sanchez, they were accompanied by two foreigners, Angel Carromero of Spain and Aron Moding of Sweden, both of whom were injured.

Foul play is suspected. Rosa María, Paya’s daughter, declared in an audio clip that a second car provoked Paya’s car crash.

We have lost a great leader and a dear friend, brothers in the long fight for freedom. I had the privilege to meet Oswaldo Paya at his home years ago, where he and his family lived in exemplary fashion the Christian values that eventually led Paya to stand up and reclaim fundamental rights for our fellow Cubans. He worked tirelessly for a better homeland, as another great patriot, Jose Marti, said “With All, and for the Good of All.” Paya was a peaceful justice seeker who met a violent death from a vicious regime.

Harold Cepero was a young man full of good intentions and with strong commitment toward his fellow man. I met him because we share many things in common, but one marked our lives forever. As with many other idealistic young Cubans, we were expelled from the university due our passion for freedom. Although we just wanted to have fun, improve ourselves and our Cuba, we faced the intolerant rule of the Castro brothers, the Cuban Communist Party, and the covert action of their secret police. Several requests directed to Cuban authorities, UNESCO and the OAS Inter‐​American Commission of Human Rights did not succeed in our efforts to go back to university. In fact, Cuban authorities stood by their discriminatory policy against “non‐​revolutionaries.” UNESCO sided with the Cuban government, despite recognizing human rights violations, and we are still waiting for the Inter‐​American Commission. (See here and here.)

In a country where young people are forced to adore the Castros’ revolution, are forbidden to think, and if they think, they cannot speak and act accordingly, we made the right choice. Harold had a gracious girlfriend, played soccer, and strived for a better future. He collected signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative led by Paya to promote a peaceful transition to democracy that gained the support of thousands of fellow citizens. After being expelled from university, he decided to give himself to the service of the others and became a Catholic seminarian. However that was not his vocation, and Harold paid the ultimate price for liberty: he ended sacrificing his life on a very different altar.

In this tragic moment I recall images of their beloved families. Oswaldo Paya’s wife, Ofelia and their children, and Harold Cepero’s parents and brother. The immense grieving for the loss of these great Cubans is not only theirs, but also belongs to every freedom lover. As Jesus Christ, Paya’s and Harold’s teacher said, “There is no greater love than this to lay one’s life down for a friend.”

Peace be upon them,
Yuri Perez‐​Vazquez
Washington, DC