HAVANA : Prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya made an impassioned appeal to organizers of an Ibero-American summit this week to speak out on human rights in communist-ruled Cuba.
Paya, a Christian democrat who won the European Parliament’s 2002 Sakharov Prize, has spearheaded an initiative seeking political and economic reforms under Cuba’s constitution. Cuban leader Fidel Castro has rejected it out of hand.
“Silence has been the watchword at all the summits,” Paya said in a letter released to the foreign media Tuesday, even “given the grave human rights situation in Cuba.”
Cuba, the only one-party communist state in the Americas, has been widely criticized for a crackdown on dissidents that saw 75 opponents of Castro jailed in April for up to 28 years.
Monday, eight of those convicted after Havana’s toughest crackdown in years, charged in a letter smuggled out of “Kilo 5-1/2” jail that they were being subject to “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.”
Oscar Elias Biscet (sentenced to 25 years), Hector Palacios (25), Jose Ferrer (25), Leonel Grave de Peralta (20), Arturo Perez Alejo (20), Diosdado Gonzalez (20), Normando Hernandez (25) and Jose Izquierdo (16) signed the letter noting “we are not asking for clemency; we want justice.”
Paya appealed for permission for a statement on the Cuban situation to be read to the leaders at the summit of Spain, Portugal and their former colonies in the Americas, to be held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on Friday and Saturday.
“We aren’t asking for anything and there will not be calls” for specific action, Paya said in a letter. “Judge and decide for yourselves, your excellencies, as a reflection of the spirit of freedom of the people you represent, what you should do” about Cuba’s lack of freedoms.
“We are asking for a space at this summit ... in the name of all of those who are working peacefully for the rights of all citizens and in defense of those who are marginalized, the poor and marginalized majority in their own country,” Paya continued in the letter.
It would be “the voice of Cubans who do not have a voice in Cuba, and denying this to them would be extending to the summit the exclusion of the regime in power” in Cuba, he wrote.
Paya’s appeal came a day after relatives of the 75 dissidents, now jailed for terms of as long as 28 years for “subversion”, sent a leller to Castro pleading for their release.
On October 3 Paya delivered more than 14,000 more signatures backing the Varela Project requesting a referendum on political and economic change.
The Varela Project petition requests a referendum on five points—freedom of expression and association, freedom of enterprise, amnesty for political prisoners, a new electoral law and, if the referendum is approved, elections within a year.
More than 11,000 signatures were collected for the petition last year, but the Cuban legislature threw it out in January, deeming it unconstitutional.