If your father was murdered by a totalitarian regime, would you go back to the place of the crime? That’s what Rosa María Payá is doing. Payá is a young Cuban democracy and human rights activist. Her father, Oswaldo Payá, the head of the Christian Liberation Movement and founder of the Varela Project, which sought to gather support for democratic transition in Cuba, died in 2012 under mysterious circumstances. Rosa María took up his work. In 2013 she denounced the Cuban government before the United Nations, contradicting the official account of her father’s “accidental” death and calling for an independent investigation into what she believed was a deliberate murder. She returned to Cuba briefly and spoke at the UN again later that year.
In 2015, Payá launched a citizens’ initiative called Cuba Decide (Cuba Decides), calling for a binding plebiscite to start the process of democratization in Cuba. Over the last two years, she was also elected the president of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy and addressed the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy and the Oslo Freedom Forum, and visited the island twice in order to visit her father’s grave and attend a mass in his memory, despite the fact that her family and fellow activists continually receive threats and suffer harassment at the hands of state security forces.
Now she is going back. Why? “I’m returning to my country,” she wrote on Facebook on Thursday, January 18. “Over the last days an escalation of violence against the entire Cuban opposition has become evident, among them various promoters of the citizens’ initiative Cuba Decide. Many friends have been jailed, beaten, or threatened, have feared for their lives. This is what happened two weeks ago to the trade union leader Iván Hernández Carrillo and to Mrs. Caridad Burunate in Matanzas and two days ago to the artist Danilo Maldonado [El Sexto], detained in the El Combinado prison and living among rumors of a possible execution. They also fear for the safety of their children and relatives, mentioned again and again during the interrogations, as state security agents Osvaldo and Maikel clarified to the musician and composer Luis Alberto Mariño. They’re intercepted and detained when they try to aid other Cubans, which is what happened to the artist-activist Tania Bruguera so that she couldn’t help those affected by Hurricane Matthew on its path towards Baracoa. Various opposition organizations and members of independent civil society throughout the nation suffer constant persecution and arrests without charges. This is what has happened to the Ladies in White, UNPACU, Dr. Eduardo Cardet, and the economist Karina Gálvez, among others. The year is beginning amid a wave of repression that reminds me intensely of the prelude to the Spring of 2003, before the jailing of the leaders of the Varela Project during the trial of the 75. I’m going home, I will be with my friends.”
At 3:02 p.m. the same day she tweeted, “In the Havana airport they have just retained my (valid) Cuban passport and they’re ordering me to wait without giving any explanation.” Six minutes later, “They’ve informed me that on this occasion I can enter Cuba, our country.”
We’ll be following Rosa María’s trip and providing any updates we receive here. Rosa María, we wish you safety and success on your mission to bring democracy and human rights to your homeland!