WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) released the following statement after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released their findings in the suspicious death of Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Payá:
“At last, we have a clear verdict on what was suspected all along. After years of petty and cowardly harassment of Cuban patriot and democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, responsibility for his tragic death and that of his colleague Harold Cepero rests with the Cuban dictatorship. Payá led a heroic and brave nonviolent movement that gathered thousands of signatures to petition for basic political freedoms under a plebiscite allowed under the Cuban constitution. Instead of respecting the people’s demands for basic human freedoms, the Cuban dictatorship cravenly altered the constitutional provision allowing for the public to petition for such change. The Castro regime harassed Payá and Cepero relentlessly, leading to the tragic end of their lives. The culpability for Payá’s and Cepero’s death also speaks to the many Cuban prisoners of conscience and political prisoners who have been and continue to be censored, jailed, harassed, or tortured for simply demanding even a semblance of political or economic freedom enjoyed by most of the Latin American and Caribbean region. It is long overdue for the Cuban dictatorship to honor Payá’s and Cepero’s dream for a more open society and to stop blaming the Cuban people’s suffering on anyone but their own cruel ineptitude, mismanagement, and self-enrichment,” wrote the senators.
In 2002, Payá started the Varela Project which sought greater political freedom in Cuba through a peaceful petition drive and referendum process as allowed for in the Cuban constitution. Not only did the Cuban government reject the historic effort and brazenly change the constitutional provision allowing such public avenue for change, but also began a decade of shameful harassment of Payá and his movement.
In July 2012, this persecution culminated in his car being rammed from behind by a tailing government vehicle, resulting in the death of Payá and fellow passenger and youth activist Harold Cepero. The Cuban government has yet to provide a credible explanation, accounting, or justice for this tragic incident.