Making her first formal appearance in Miami, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo, the daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, said Friday that it’s time for all Cubans on the island and abroad “to push in the same direction.”
One avenue would be her father’s Project Varela, Payá Acevedo said. The proposal for a plebiscite on whether Cuba should have a multi-party democracy and freedom of speech and assembly gathered more than 25,000 signatures in 2002.
The 24-year-old physicist’s remarks and news conference at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies came a week after Havana journalist and blogger Yoani Sánchez spent several days in the capital of Cuban exiles.
Like Sánchez, the Cuban government had been denying Payá Acevedo permission to travel abroad until February, a month after a reform of the island’s migration system removed the requirement for the much hated “exit permit.”
Never miss a local story.
Payá Acevedo said her trip abroad, with stops in Chile, Spain, Sweden, Washington, New York City and Miami before she returns to Havana next week, was designed in part to spread the message that Cubans need democracy and unity of purpose.
“We need to push together. . . . It is time to push in the same direction,” she declared, drawing a round of applause from her first formal audience since arriving in Miami on Thursday evening.
Asked whether Cubans are ready for democracy, she shot back, “One doesn’t have to go to school for freedoms and rights.”
Seeks crash probe
But her trip also was designed to push for an independent investigation of her father’s death in a July 22 car crash that the Cuban government says was an accident but which others insist was caused by State Security agents who were following his vehicle.
She has appealed to the European Parliament and the human rights branches of the United Nations and Organization of American States to investigate the crash. The Payá family also has hired a Madrid lawyer for a possible lawsuit against Cuba, because her father was a Spanish citizen.
“All the evidence indicates that it [the crash] was no accident,” she asserted. “We have the right to know the truth.”
Oswaldo Payá and fellow dissident Harold Cepero were killed when their car, driven by visiting Spanish politician Angel Carromero, crashed near the eastern city of Bayamo. Carromero and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig survived.
Carromero told her during several recent meetings in Spain that he was run off the road by another car, presumably one of the State Security vehicles that had been following them since they left Havana, and that the Europeans were punched by the first men to arrive on the scene.
Cuban prosecutors say Carromero was speeding and crashed into a tree. He was sentenced to four years in prison for vehicular homicide, but returned to Madrid under an agreement that allows Spaniards and Cubans to serve sentences in their own countries.
Her father was always very careful on Cuban roads and never would have allowed Carromero to drive too fast, Payá Acevedo declared.
Modig told her at their recent meeting in Stockholm that he was sleeping before the crash but woke up as the car swerved and does not remember crashing into a tree, she said.
Since the crash, presumed State Security agents have continued to harass and intimidate her and her family in much the same way they tried to coerce her father after he founded the dissident Christian Liberation Movement in 1987, she said.
Family members are followed almost everywhere they go in Cuba, she said, and she has received threatening telephone calls at 4 a.m. The last such phone call repeated a threat that was voiced to her father before the fatal crash: “We are going to kill you.”
She has asked for protective measures for her and her family during her meetings at the U.N. and OAS, Payá Acevedo said, but remains concerned about the safety of other dissidents.
Asked about her father’s relations with the Cuban Catholic church — he was a tough critic of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega — Payá Acevedo said priests and nuns have been supportive and even hosted relatives of political prisoners who must travel far to visit them.
“At the hierarchical level, I can’t say the same,” she added with a smile.