(Washington, DC) – Human Rights Watch issued the following statement on the death on July 22, 2012, of the Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, founder of the Varela Project, which challenged the government to undertake democratic reforms: 

Oswaldo Payá’s long struggle for civil and political freedoms in Cuba was defined by an effective blend of idealism and pragmatism, which laid bare the hostility of the Castro government toward calls for basic freedoms. The brilliance of Payá’s Varela Project was that it used the Cuban government’s own laws to challenge its repressive tactics, through collecting more than 10,000 signatures in 2002 to call for a constitutional referendum. The declaration advocated democratic reform, respect for human rights, and freedom for all political prisoners.

It required both leadership and courage on the part of Payá and his fellow organizers to collect the signatures, and many paid the price with brutal prison sentences in a 2003 crackdown, which followed the government’s resounding rejection of the project’s demands. It is tragic that Payá did not live to see these freedoms respected by the Cuban government.