Activists can die, but their spirits live! — Written by Hoàng Triết. July 22, 2014 “In memory of those who lay down their lives for the good of all others.”

homenaje democratas de vietnamsolidaridad activistas vietnamitasThe revolutionaries, the repeating theme in times?

How does one define a hero, how to weigh on each struggle?

Continuing the thorny path, even if it is, a matter of life and death

Willingly losing one’s life to let the spirit eternally remains.

On this day two years ago, a collision involved a blue rental car and another car with a government’s plate took place on a deserted road near the city of Bayamo Granma province, Eastern Cuba.  The blue car was rear-ended repeatedly, spanned off and ended up fatally crashed into the concrete curbside.  The accident claimed the lives of one the most famous dissidents in Cuba, Oswaldo Payá, and his young aide, Harold Cepero.   Finally, after numerous and repeated death threats, they had successfully taken the life of the founder and the leader of the opposition movement that demanded political change in Cuba.

As a young man, Oswaldo was the only student at his school who refused to join the Communist League. In 1969, he was sentenced to three years of hard labor for refusing to transport political prisoners during his mandatory military service.  After that, he was expelled from the University of Havana because of his religious belief. He had to abandon his study of Physics and switched to attending night school to become an engineer in the field of information and communication.  Oswaldo had refused to seek asylum and settle abroad in the massive exodus, Mariel Boatlift, in 1980, and instead remained inside of Cuba to continue his works as an activist to promote changes for his country.

As a political activist, Oswaldo Payá was the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement in 1987 to oppose the totalitarian dictatorship of the Communist Party of Cuba.  In 1998, Oswaldo launched the Varela Project, collecting signatures for a proposed legislature that asked for democratic and political reforms in Cuba, namely to implement the exercise of the people’s freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to vote, freedom of religion, privatization of businesses, and amnesty for political prisoners.

According to Article 88 of the Cuban Constitution, the Cuban National Assembly will have to receive and consider drafts of legislatures proposed by its citizens if 10,000 persons who are registered to vote support the proposal with their names, national identification numbers, addresses, and signatures.  The Varela Project led by Oswaldo and the MCL, his organization, gained recognition among the Cuban people as well as getting the world’s attention after collecting a reported 11,020 signatures.  The Varela Project got purposely delayed by the Cuban government and ultimately defeated when the Cuban National Assembly announced its Resolution – which it claimed had a 99% of voters’ support – that Cuban would continue to be a permanent socialist country.  However, everyone understood that it was the National Assembly that pressured the Cuban people into approving said Resolution.  Thus, the movement to continue the Varela Project gained broader support of Cuban-Americans as well as the United States administration.  Oswaldo gathered and submitted an additional 14,000 signatures on October 2003, bringing the total number of collected signatures collected to more than 25,000.  Incumbent Communist chairman at the time, Fidel Castro, had called signatures gathering project a “conspiracy supported by the United States to overthrow his government.”  Leading campaigners behind the Varela Project were alleged to have received assistance from political groups overseas, and a crackdown from the government in 2003 resulted in the arrest of 75 dissidents – who are members of MCL – half of which were the people behind the Varela Project.

However, Oswaldo was not arrested, and he continued to voice his opposition against the regime, criticizing the Cuban government during the succession of Raúl Castro.  Oswaldo refused to recognize the financial support of the United States and opposed the U.S. embargo of Cuba.  At the same time, he called for the Raúl Castro’s government to implement the changes as requested in the draft of the Varela Project’s proposed legislature.  While his activism was being tolerated at a certain level, both his family and he still regularly be threatened to “be killed before any changes in the regime, if they would not leave the country.”  Tragically, on July 22, 2012, such threat became a reality.  He and his assistant, Harold Cepero, were forever gone in the assassination disguised as a traffic accident, leaving behind the unfinished career as the leader of the most prominent political dissident faction in Cuba.  This unfinished business has been picked up and carried on by  many leaders and activists of the Christian Liberation Movement in and out of Cuba to continue his fight for political reform in Cuba.

We can say that pro-democratic activist Oswaldo Payá had become a thorn in Cuba’s dictatorship with 25,000 signatures calling for human rights reform.  And, therefore, he was harmed.  After reading about Oswaldo, one can recall the story of our very own Vietnamese activist, teacher Dinh Dang Dinh.  Teacher Dinh Dang Dinh, who was riding his motorbike around his hometown of Dak Nong to collect 3,000 signatures for a petition of the people against China’s bauxite mining in Vietnam’s Highlands.  Teacher Dinh Dang Dinh’s action, which stemmed from his patriotism, got accused by the government as “subversion to the State,” subjected him to interrogations by the government, then wrongfully convicted, imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately died of cancer after months of not having the proper medical treatment in jails.

Today, after learning about the brief biographies of two ill-fated activists, Oswaldo and Harold, human rights and democracy advocates in Vietnam as well as members of the Vietnam Path Movement around the world, quickly gathered to show their support by taking pictures of themselves with the Liberación hand signal.  Human rights are universal throughout the world, and the struggle for human rights does not distinguish boundaries.  We, Vietnamese human rights activists, are always willing to support our Cuban brothers and sisters and their struggle, so that we all can keep up with our fighting spirits.  We believe that our Cuban brothers and sisters would also support the Vietnamese struggle for human rights and freedom.  Perhaps, we shall choose the death anniversary of teacher Dinh Dang Dinh as a day to honor his works and his legacy every year.

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