Marco Rubio Calls on IACHR to Finish Investigation of Death of Cuban Human Rights Advocate

This week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Ben Cardin, D-Mary., Bob Menendez, D-NJ, Mark Warner, D-Va., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in urging the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to complete its investigation of Cuban human rights advocate Oswaldo Payá, who died nearly nine years ago, without further delay.

An early critic of the Castro regime, Payá founded the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, or MLC for its initials in Spanish) in 1988 to promote democracy and civil liberties through non-violent resistance. A decade later, the organization established the Varela Project, which sought to advance democratic reforms by exploiting a provision in the Cuban Constitution allowing the public to introduce legislation.

In July 2012, the Cuban regime’s persecution against Payá culminated in his car being rammed from behind by a tailing government vehicle. Tragically, this resulted in Payá’s death as well as the death of youth activist Harold Cepero. The Cuban dictatorship has yet to provide a credible explanation to account for this tragic incident.

Rubio is the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Secretary Panszi:

Congratulations on your recent appointment to lead the Commission – a timely selection amid troubling democratic and human rights backsliding in Latin America.  In 2013, several of us sent the included letter to previous Commission Executive Secretary Emilio Icaza urging the Commission investigate the suspicious death of Cuban political reformer Oswaldo Payá.  With the ninth anniversary of this troubling event soon approaching and a refusal of the Cuban government to allow or provide for a credible investigation into the matter, we once again urge the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to advance its efforts on this case without further delay.

As you likely recall, in 2002 Payá started the Varela Project that sought greater political freedom in Cuba through a peaceful petition drive and referendum process as allowed for in the Cuban constitution.  Not only did the Cuban government reject the historic effort and brazenly change the constitutional provision allowing such public avenue for change, but also began a decade of shameful harassment of Payá and his movement.

In July 2012, this persecution culminated in his car being rammed from behind by a tailing government vehicle, resulting in the death of Payá and fellow passenger and youth activist Harold Cepero.  The Cuban government has yet to provide a credible explanation, accounting, or justice for this tragic incident.  In fact, shortly after his death the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution honoring Payá’s work which also called on the “Government of Cuba to allow an impartial, third-party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.”

We hope the Commission’s unique role in such matters will help advance such an accounting and continue to stand ready to assist with this important matter.

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