Repression forced dissident family to flee Cuba

The AP via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Cuban dissident: Repression forced family to flee

Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya who died in a car crash, left, and her mother Ofelia Acevedo talk to the media about their family’s decision to seek political refuge in the U.S., in Miami, Fla., Tuesday, July 18, 2013.  Paya traveled through Europe and the U.S. in April to push for an international investigation into the death of her father, who was killed in a car crash along with another dissident in 2012 in Cuba. Photo: J Pat Carter

MIAMI (AP) — One of several Cuban dissidents recently allowed to visit Europe and the U.S. after Cuba changed its travel laws said Tuesday she decided to seek refuge in Miami after facing continued repression on the island.

Rosa Maria Paya said she and her family have been the subject of threats, harassment and increased vigilance since her father’s death last year and following her return to Cuba in April.

“We wanted to rest a bit from the persecution we faced in Cuba,” Paya said, “and continue working on the opposition’s proposals for change and transition to democracy.”

Paya, 24, is the daughter of the late Oswaldo Paya, the lead organizer of the Varela Project, a signature-gathering drive regarded as the largest nonviolent campaign to change the system Fidel Castro established in 1959. The petition asked authorities for a referendum on guaranteeing rights such as freedom of speech and assembly in Cuba.

In July 2012, Paya and youth activist Harold Cepero died in a car crash in Bayamo, Cuba. The two men and another passenger were in a car driven by Spaniard Angel Carromero, who lost control and struck a tree, according to government authorities. Carromero was convicted of vehicular homicide and sent to Spain to serve a four-year sentence.

Paya’s daughter, wife and others have insisted the crash was not an accident. They assert that witness accounts, text messages and statements made after the crash raise questions about the Cuban government’s account. Rosa Maria Paya spoke with government officials in the U.S. and Europe to press for an international investigation.

Rosa Maria Paya was allowed to leave in April after Cuba eliminated the exit permit that had been required of islanders for five decades. She was one of several prominent Cuban dissidents to visit the U.S. and appears to be the first to have returned to Cuba and then sought status as a political refugee in the U.S.

She said that when she returned to Cuba, immigration officials at the airport told her, “Welcome.”

But the threats, vigilance and oppression against her family and others involved in the movement her father started intensified, she said.

The decision of the Paya family — six members in all — to leave the island is likely to be seen as a black eye to the Cuban government, which has been trying to portray itself as a more open society since enacting a slate of social and economic reforms in recent years, said Jaime Suchlicki, a professor at the University of Miami.

“It makes it look like the Cuban government is oppressive, which it is,” Suchlicki said. On the other hand, with one less dissident on the island, “I don’t think the Cuban government is going to be too upset.”

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