Cuba dissident movement suffers blow with leaders’ deaths
Two of the country’s top government critics have died nine months apart, leaving a depleted opposition that was already being eclipsed by a new generation.
MEXICO CITY — The abrupt deaths of two ofCuba’stop dissidents barely nine months apart represent a demoralizing blow to a movement already weakened by time and government-sponsored harassment.
Democracy activist Oswaldo Paya was killed July 22 when the driver of his car lost control while speeding and hit an unpaved patch of roadway in eastern Cuba, authorities said. The government identified the driver as a Spaniard, who was hurt along with a Swede also in the car. Another dissident traveling with the group was also killed.
Paya, 60, was one of the most respected dissidents in Cuba, a devout Roman Catholic who spent decades criticizing the Castro governments and urging peaceful democratic change. Although the opposition movement in Cuba is tiny, authorities used Paya’s funeral to round up about 40 activists and briefly arrest them, a move widely criticized by human rights groups.
In October, Laura Pollan, a founder of the Ladies in White group, which has fought on behalf of political prisoners, died in a Cuban hospital after a sudden respiratory illness.
In both cases, the families raised questions about the circumstances and suggested the possibility of foul play, though they presented no evidence.
Even as they mourn, dissidents will have to dig deep into their depleted ranks to find new leaders and continue their struggle.
Already, the movement that Paya, Pollan and others led was in some ways being eclipsed by a new generation of dissidents and critics of the regime who use blogs, music and even poetry readings to demand freedoms.
“That is where the new voices are, the new ideas,” said Ted Henken, an expert on Cuba at the City University of New York. And they have broader reach and deeper connection to people on the island, something that Paya and the older activists could not claim.
But, Henken added, that was not to say that Paya and the others didn’t play a role in dissent.
“They are relevant to the international dialogue on Cuba,” he said, “the boomerang of international pressure.”
Pictured: Ofelia Acevedo, left, and Rosa Maria Paya, widow and daughter of Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, attend his funeral in Havana. (Adalberto Roque, AFP/Getty Images / July 29, 2012)