Oswaldo Payá’s cause of death was no surprise to those in Miami

Cubans in Florida reacted with outrage to a June report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) that dissident Oswaldo Payá was tortured before his murder by the island nation’s authorities in 2012.

“I am enraged because the report revealed more lies by the Cuban government,” said Zoila Rodriguez, a Cuban immigrant from Havana. “They might have let that body almost decompose completely.”

Last month, the ICHR revealed gruesome new details on Payá’s death, which was plotted by the island’s regime. But in Miami, emigrés were unfazed by the news. 

“We knew all along that this was a deliberate murder to silence the opposition to the Communist regime,” said Frank Rodriguez, a representative of the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora. “Mr. Payá had been warned and threatened by the dictatorship several times before.”

In 1988, Payá founded the “Christian Liberation Movement” in an effort to transition the Castro dictatorship into a democracy. Then he started the Varela Project, which centered on a one-page petition demanding democratic elections and freeing of the press, political prisoners, speech, assembly, and enterprise.

Despite a lack of Internet or other alternatives on the island, Payá collected over 35,000 signatures and sent them to Fidel Castro. The Castro regime imprisoned 75 people in response and threw away the petitions. But that was not all they had planned. 

Harold Cepero, a fellow Cuban dissident who was expelled in high school after signing the Varela Project in 2002, died with Payá in a car accident. The driver, Ángel Carromero, was accused of their deaths and served the majority of his four-year prison sentence at his home in Madrid, Spain starting in 2012.

Now, the ICHR revealed chilling details into the treatment of Payá’s body after his death. The ICHR described refrigeration chambers in the morgue were unable to house his body because they were reportedly broken, and a syringe was found in his groin. Despite several attempts by his family to secure an autopsy report, the Cuban regime never proved one had been conducted.

This did not surprise Cuban human rights activist Sebastián Arcos Cazabón, whose father and uncle were colleagues of Payá and were prominent Cuban dissidents who opposed the Batista and Castro regimes. He works for FIU’s Cuban Research Institute.

“No part of the report shocked me, because I have personally experienced the ruthlessness of the regime and I have had the privilege of personally knowing many people who have experienced the same, and much worse,” said Arcos. 

A question remains if there will be more reports to show dissident leaders’ deaths at the hands of the Cuban regime in the future.

“People are still hungry, dying, without medication and water,” said Rodriguez. “All these people who continue to die, and political prisoners who have died in the past, are at the hands of the Cuban government. The regime should be accountable for [their deaths].”

Alexandra Howard is a senior pursuing a dual degree in digital journalism and political science. She intends to later graduate from law school and become an immigration lawyer and political journalist.