Tuesday, May 16, 2006

An unsilenced voice for change - A conversation with Oswaldo Pay�

The Americas

An unsilenced voice for change
Dec 14th 2005
From The Economist print edition
A conversation with Oswaldo Pay�

AFPPay�, harassed but independent

FEW things endanger dictators as much as the free exchange of ideas. Maybe that is why Fidel Castro's communist government refused to allow Oswaldo Pay�, Cuba's most prominent dissident, an exit visa to let him talk at a conference of European NGOs in London on December 8th. Mr Pay�'s treatment should cause European governments to reflect on whether their current policy of constructive engagement with Cuba makes sense.

Between 2001 and 2004, Mr Pay�'s movement gathered 25,000 signatures in a vain attempt to persuade Cuba's National Assembly to change the constitution to allow multi-party democracy. Activists of his Christian Liberation Movement made up more than two-thirds of the 75 dissidents and journalists rounded up and jailed for long terms in April 2003.

Unlike some other dissidents, Mr Pay� refuses help from the United States. He opposes the American trade embargo against the island and the Bush administration's recent decision to set up a �Cuba transition� desk at the State Department. Speaking by telephone from the British embassy in Havana last week, he reiterated his commitment to peaceful democratic change. �We want to launch a transition programme within Cuba, one without revenge or radical leaps but rather one of reconciliation,� he said.

Mr Pay� argues that most Cubans want democratic rights and freedoms. What holds them back, he says, is not just fear of the regime. They also fear change. For that reason, he says, a transition to democracy should not force ordinary Cubans to return their houses to the people who owned them before the 1959 revolution.

Most of Mr Pay�'s family are in exile. His house in Havana is watched by security police. He works as a technician in Cuba's health service. His prominence seems to offer some protection�in 2002 the European Parliament awarded him its Sakharov prize for human rights. The wives of the jailed dissidents were joint winners of the prize this year, but were denied exit visas to collect it this week.

This year, at the urging of Spain's Socialist government, the EU dropped the mild diplomatic sanctions it slapped on Cuba after the round-up of dissidents. An Ibero-American summit in Spain in October condemned the American embargo but said nothing about Cuba's lack of political freedom. Spain is �complaisant� with Mr Castro's regime, Mr Pay� says. �We need a campaign of support and solidarity with peaceful change in Cuba� of the kind that brought an end to apartheid in South Africa and to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

That is the message that Mr Pay� would have delivered in London. It would have shamed all those in Europe who put their disagreements with American foreign policy above their support for Cuba's beleaguered campaigners for freedom.

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More articles about...
Human rights
Free speech

Human Rights First provides information about Oswaldo Pay�s petition for a referendum.
America�s State Department has details on relations with Cuba.
The European Parliament posts previous winners of its Sakharov prize.

NB - Oswaldo Pay� will be honored by Columbia University on Wednesday, 17 May 2006, Mr. Pay� has been denied exit visa by the Communist Regime of Fidel Castro. - JRM

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