Senators Meet with Rosa Maria Paya, Discuss Democracy in Cuba

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Senators Renew Call for Investigation into Death of Payá’s Father, Oswaldo, A Political Reformer

Washington, D.C. – A bipartisan group of Senators met with Rosa Maria Payá, the daughter of Cuban political reformer Oswaldo Payá, in the U.S. Capitol today, to discuss democratic reforms in Cuba and to reiterate their call for an investigation into Mr. Payá’s troubling death last year in which he, and youth activist Harold Cepero, were killed in a suspicious car accident.

The meeting today was hosted by Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and was attended by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Last month, the four Senators sent a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, urging the Commission to investigate Mr. Payá’s death. A copy of the letter is attached along with a photo from today’s meeting.

“Oswaldo Payá’s death was a tragic blow to the peaceful and courageous democracy movement in Cuba and deserves a full and open investigation,” Senator Durbin said. “Rosa Maria’s tireless efforts to call attention to her father’s death show that efforts to reform the political climate in Cuba will not be easily silenced. We stand with Oswaldo, Rosa Maria, and the thousands of Cubans calling for peaceful reforms in their country.”

"Oswaldo Payá's death has meant other courageous Cuban democracy leaders must continue the work of fighting for their freedom and exposing the regime's cruelty. It is our job to support these leaders that Oswaldo inspired and laid the groundwork for, while holding the regime accountable for his death," said Rubio. "Despite her tragic loss, Rosa Maria Payá is a courageous woman who deserves the support of the United States and entire international community in getting real answers on Oswaldo's death through an independent investigation."

"Rosa Maria’s commitment to carry on her father’s work without fear is demonstrative of her ceaseless commitment and that of many in Cuba’s peaceful dissident community to demand political reform in Cuba.  Unfortunately, oppression in Cuba in the last year has escalated with more violent attacks, detentions and arrests.  The murder of Oswlado Paya is symbolic of the ends to which the regime will go to threaten and obstruct the growing chorus of voices calling for change in Cuba.   I both honor and admire the work being carried on by Rosa Maria in honor of her father and was very pleased to welcome her to the Capitol today and hear her father’s story,” Menendez said.

“Oswaldo Payá will forever be remembered as one of Cuba’s best known dissidents,” Nelson said.  “But the causes that he championed — freedom of speech, press and enterprise — continue to elude the Cuban people.  That’s why a thorough independent investigation into his death is so critical.  Without it, further reform is easily undermined or avoided, altogether.”

Oswaldo Payá was the founder of the Verela Project, a petition drive that peacefully sought greater political freedom for Cubans.  The Cuban Constitution guaranteed the right to a national referendum on any proposal that achieved 10,000 or more signatures from Cuban citizens eligible to vote.  In May 2002, the Varela Project delivered 11,020 valid signatures to the Cuban National Assembly calling for an end to four decades of one-party rule. 

As a result of these efforts, Mr. Payá and his colleagues faced sustained harassment and as many as 25 of its leaders were jailed as part of massive round up of dissidents, known as the Black Spring. Payá’s nonviolent attempt to seek political change was celebrated around the world, earning him a number of awards including the European Union’s Sakharov Prize and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination from former Czech President Václav Havel.

Since his death, Rosa Maria Payá has traveled the world in an attempt to highlight her father’s death and the need for political reforms in Cuba. In March, Ms. Payá appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, where she asked the international body to investigate her father’s death.