Family, Freedom and the Oswaldo Payá Prize
The home of Oswaldo Payá, the Cuban political leader who was killed, along with Harold Cepero, under murky circumstances in 2012, has a small living room. It is a space consonant with a house of modest dimensions, for a family whose social and political life, under normal conditions, is lived through the appropriate institutions, with no other aspiration than its domestic harmony and its children growing up healthy. It was really not large enough to constitute an appropriate site for the bestowal, on Wednesday 22 February, 2017, of the Oswaldo Payá Freedom and Life Prize, awarded to Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, and Patricio Aylwin, the former Chilean president who was given it posthumously.
Aylwin’s honor was to be collected by his daughter Mariana. But the Cuban government blocked both her and Almagro from entering the country, in addition to Mexican president Felipe Calderón, who was nominated and had accepted the invitation to attend the ceremony along with other international guests.
The Government also foiled the arrival of an unverified number of people from Cuba’s civil society, either because they were stopped directly, like Henry Constantín, or with the paramilitary cordon set up around the house in the Havana municipality of Cerro, like Diario Las Americas journalist Iván García.
The humble room still proved insufficient to accommodate the members of civil society, diplomatic corps, and foreign media who were able to get there. The chairs initially set up were stowed, and throughout the event the attendees had to stand. It was a vivid example of how, thanks to Castroism, private spaces have to assume the functions of public ones, among other uses not corresponding to them.
The remarks by Rosa María Payá on the need for freedom for Cuba, a reading by Saylí Navarro of a letter written for the occasion by Ofelia Acevedo, Oswaldo's widow; the words of Ivan Hernández Carrillo, the only nominee who made it to the event, and a taped speech sent by Felipe Calderón to the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, dramatically demonstrated the competence and political maturity of the organizers.
Rosa Maria's words, stating that the prizes would not be sent to their recipients, but rather stored and given to them, in that same room, in a free Cuba, expresses an aspiration instilling that small space with a universal dimension.
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro deserves praise for having accepted the award and the invitation to travel to Cuba to receive it, in Cerro, in a modest room, on an old and rickety chair.
The OAS was instrumental in distancing other Latin American governments from Fidel Castro during the most lethal stage of his political machinations, when he subjected the country to a succession of vicious schemes. The estrangement occurred after the democratic government of Rómulo Betancourt severed relations with Cuba and endorsed its condemnation by the OAS due to the Communist nature of Fidel Castro's government and its role in the subversion of the Venezuelan government. It had taken a similar stance against Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the tyrant of the Dominican Republic, and shortly thereafter, the same commitment to democratic standards led it to break off diplomatic relations with the Haitian government, then headed by François Duvalier.
For Fidel Castro to be treated like just another Caribbean despot was an affront that he was unwilling to tolerate, sparking hostility towards the OAS that remains today.
The fact that the Payá family's home was the venue for an event of this nature honors the Cuban family. If in recent years there has been a bit of an economic upturn for families, it has been due to, precisely, the conversion of domestic spaces into facilities for private business and industry, though the Castro regime has offered nothing but obstacles and impediments to this growth.
The success of the event organized by the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy evidences that, together with its management capacities, and economic initiative, it is in Cuban families that there endures, with astonishing vitality, our people's yearning for and commitment to its political freedom.