June 10, 2013

Payá family to settle in South Florida like other Cubans, not seeking asylum

Relatives of the late Oswaldo Payá say they will settle in South Florida like other Cubans but have no plans to seek asylum.

Seven relatives of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá who fled to Miami out of fear of government persecution will settle in South Florida like other Cuba arrivals and will not seek political asylum, family members and supporters said Monday.

That means some of the new arrivals will be able to return to Cuba, if needed to continue Payá’s work, and will feel safer while they push their allegations that government agents killed Payá almost a year ago, the relatives and supporters added.

Payá’s brother, Carlos, who lives in Spain, said the new Miami arrivals will not apply for asylum and spent Monday looking for housing, registering with the Social Security Administration and going through the normal arrival process for Cubans.

Five family members flew to Miami on Thursday: His widow, Ofelia Acevedo; daughter, Rosa Maria; son, Reinaldo; and Acevedo’s 86-year-old mother and a sister. A Payá sister and an aunt arrived May 30. His eldest son, Oswaldo, arrived earlier this year.

The relatives began applying for passports and visas about one month after Rosa Maria returned to Cuba on April 16 from a trip abroad, said Julio Hernandez, a Miami member of the dissident group founded by Payá, the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL).

During the two-month trip, Rosa Maria denounced her father’s death before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Switzerland, the Organization of American States in Washington and dozens of other audiences.

“There were continuous intimidations and harassments against the entire family” after Rosa María returned, Hernandez said, from midnight phone callers who shouted death threats and obscenities to the State Security agents who followed them almost everywhere they went.

The family was especially concerned about threats to Reinaldo, at 21 the youngest and therefore perhaps the most susceptible to government pressures, according to Hernandez. Reinaldo has been studying at the University of Havana.

And while Rosa Maria’s activism in the MCL and high-profile trip abroad is believed to have given her a bit of protection from government harassments, Reinaldo “did not have that kind of protection,” Hernandez told El Nuevo Herald.

By mid-May, the relatives were applying for passports and other documents they needed to leave the island, Hernandez added, but kept their plans quiet. It was not clear what documents they used to travel to Miami, because some are Spanish citizens.

Under the U.S. government’s so-called “dry-foot, wet-foot” policy holds, illegal Cuban migrants are returned to the island if they are intercepted at sea and those who set foot on U.S. territory cannot be sent back. One year and one day after their arrival, the migrants can obtain permanent U.S. residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Payá’s relatives could return to the island under a new Cuban migration system in effect since Jan. 15. It allows Cubans to stay abroad for at least 24 months before they lose their residence on the island. After that, they need Havana’s permission to return.

The safety of Miami also may allow the family to finally file a long-threatened lawsuit against the Cuban government for Payá’s death in a Spanish court, Hernandez added. Payá obtained Spanish citizenship because his father was Spanish-born.

Payá and MCL activist Harold Cepero were killed in a July 22 car CRASH in eastern Cuba. Spanish politician Angel Carromero, who was driving, and another passenger, Swedish politician Jens Aaron Modig, survived with minor injuries.

A Cuban court ruled that Carromero lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a tree, and sentenced him to four years in prison. Carromero and Payá’s family say his vehicle was rammed from behind and forced off the road by another car carrying the State Security agents who always tailed the dissident anywhere he went.

“This family suffered a tragedy, a crime committed by the state,” Carlos Payá said by phone from Madrid.

Payá is best known for organizing the Varela Project, which collected more than 25,000 signatures demanding a referendum on freedom of speech and other civil rights. He was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience in 2002 and was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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