And although Payá criticized the U.S. embargo — he repeatedly insisted that Cubans must fix their own problems — he also scoffed at the claim that increased U.S. tourism and business would entice the government to change.
“That’s an insult to the Cuban people. Changes will not be made by tourists drinking daiquiris and mojitos, strolling through our beaches,” Payá declared in a video interview rebroadcast this week by Miami’s MEGA TV.
Payá also was critical of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino and his talks in 2010 with Raúl Castro, who succeeded brother Fidel in 2008. The contacts led to the release of the last of the “Group of 75” still in prison and other political prisoners.
“We believe Cubans should not remain mere spectators in this or any other negotiation,” he declared. “The dissident movement is much more than an issue that government and church representatives can discuss without listening to us.”
In 2007 he joined several well-known dissidents, including Martha Beatriz Roque and members of the Ladies in White, declaring their unity in the struggle for peaceful change toward democracy.
But Payá and others were absent last year when a dozen other dissidents, including Fariñas and Oscar Elias Biscet, a member of the “Group of 75,” issued a “reaffirmation of unity” to “motivate the population to join in a peaceful fight against the regime.”
Payá was the second top leader of Cuba’s dissident movement to die in nine months. Laura Pollán, the widely respected founder and head of the Ladies in White — female relatives of the 75 — died Nov. 14 from a heart attack and respiratory failure.
Well-known blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote that Payá’s death was “a dramatic loss for [Cuba’s] present and an irreplaceable loss for its future,” and that without him “the island is more of an orphan now.”
But dissidents noted that the opposition movement has other top figures, from veteran political activists like Roque, Biscet and Fariñas and Elizardo Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human rights and National Reconciliation, to younger firebrands like José Daniel Ferrer García and Pollán’s successor, Berta Soler.
Payá’s MCL is “very well organized and no doubt someone will succeed him as its leader,” said Biscet by phone from his home in Havana.
Catholic activist Dagoberto Valdés noted that in a sign of their unity, opposition activists of every stripe attended Payá’s wake and funeral Mass last week at the El Salvador del Mundo church in Havana.
“In the struggle for freedom, those who fall on the road turn into flags, into symbols of the peaceful struggle,” Valdés added. “The opposition will continue, with this new symbol of our struggle.”
Elizardo Sánchez said the dissidents’ own fractiousness — with scores of factions that range from hundreds of members in key cities to little more than two or three people in a remote town — actually helps them remain strong despite the death of a leader like Payá.
“A shortcoming of the opposition becomes a virtue,” said Sánchez.