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Oswaldo Payá Sardiňas

Oswaldo Payá Sardiňas is a life-long non-violent dissident, leader of the Varela Project and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberacion – MCL), founded in 1988 by a group of Catholics in Havana. It is a non-confessional, political-civil movement with certain aspects of Christian inspiration which promotes human rights and works toward reconciliation and peaceful changes in Cuba.

Oswaldo Payá was born on the 29th of February 1952. Since the outset, his family had been a target of the Castro regime as it showed no sympathy toward the communist regime and did not try to hide its inclination towards the Catholic Church. In the period of the worst persecution, the family kept on showing their loyalty to the Catholic church. His experiences of persecution continued through his schooling, where his criticism of the Cuban revolution was deemed by school management as dangerous. In 1969, aged 17, Oswaldo Payá was imprisoned without any judicial proceedings in a concentration camp for young people, in which he was forced to work in a quarry on the isle Isla de Pinos, working 60 hours per week under brutal treatment. Upon release in 1972, he was consistently subjected to serveillance, interrogation and detainment on behalf of the Communist Party.

In 1987, he and several other laymen from the Cerro parish established the Circle of Cuban Thinking. Mr Payá published the first independent magazine called God’s People (Pueblo de Dios); its goal the protection of the rights of all Cubans, not only Catholics and in the same year, he established the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberacion – MCL) and launched thus a brand new phase of citizens’ non-violent fight for national reconciliation. Following a brief period in custody, Mr Payá and the Christian Liberation Movement published the National Dialogue Appeal (Llamamiento al Dialogo Nacional) among all Cubans, those in Cuba as well as those in exiles and launched a campaign to gather 10,000 signatures so that the initiative would be transformed into a draft of a bill. This proceeding was theoretically in harmony with the Constitution, Article 86.

In 1992, Mr Payá announced for the first time his intention to candidate to the Cuban Parliament. However, the secret police prevented him from doing this even though he had the constitutional right to ”be elected”. Two days before the election meeting which makes the nominations, he was arrested and lead under an escort through the whole of the town’s quarter so that his neighbours would be prevented from any rebellion. In 1995, Mr Payá appealed for the first time on the U.S. to cancel unconditionally the embargo in the area of medicine and food and reconsider its political strategy toward Cuba. In 1995, he became one of the five organizers of the Cuban House (Concilio Cubano) and the author of its declaration. He was once more put in custody and had to face various threats.

From 1996 to 1997, Mr Payá worked on the Varela Project and two years afterwards the manifest Todos Unidos (”Altogether”) andit was put forth at the first meeting of the opposition groups. The meeting took place despite strong repression and its result was the establishment of a common opposition movement. Oswaldo Paya was elected coordinator of the Todos Unidos Common Committee and in March 2001, Todos Unidos launched a signature campaign for the support of the Varela Project, a call for referendum based on the Cuban constitution that proposes changes to law in order to guarantee fundamental rights to Cuban citizens. Despite persecution, the required 10,000 signatures were gathered and the petition has now been signed by 25,000 citizens.

Mr Payá was often invited to human rights events all over the world but has never been allowed to leave Cuba. In 2001, he received the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought given by the European Parliament and the National Democratic Institute’s 2002 W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award. Mr. Payá has also been nominated to receive the 2003, 2004 and 2005 Nobel Peace Prizes.

Regis Iglesias Ramirez
a member of the Christian Liberation Movement


This project is supported by funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic through the Transition Promotion Program.