Oswaldo Payá: The Act of Serving
Still dazed and in shock I compose these words to Oswaldo. When I started to get the first messages about Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas’s death they were showing the film “War Horse,” and in one of the scenes a soldier leaves his foxhole to save his charger and before the imminence of his death he is praying parts of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” as if nothing should be lacking now to someone who is and well be a man-bridge, man-dialog, man-country.
The messages clogged my phone with the hashtag #OrlandoPayá and the mention ©OswaldoPaya. The questions of friends from every corner of the island and of the world. The police cordon at the hospital in Bayama, the details of the fatal incident, the doubts of a witness about a supposed police chase, the construction crews in the middle of the road on the El Naranjo curve. The questions. The answers. The words. The damn words.
It’s difficult to think of Payá and not go back to the now well known EFE Agency photo where he, Antonio Díaz Sánchez and Regis Iglesia, on that 10th of May 2012, are approaching the site of the National Assembly of People’s Power to deliver the 11,025 signatures of citizens who supported the Varela Project.
There was the map of tomorrow’s Cuba. I say that because now the faces of the three blend together for me with those of hundreds of anonymous opponents, without a visible mark for the “mass media” merrymaking, those who gave birth to and collected these desires.
The most insignificant of the Cuban dissidents saw pass through their hands a form, a copy, or a summary of the range of strategies that Payá wanted to tune into so that Cuba would be different. Along with virtues, defects and contradictions, there was his greatness. The Cuban regime had to move, in an acrobatic high-wire act to the people to amend those articles that gave a glimpse of freedom and that were a dead letter in the Constitution until Oswaldo Payá grabbed hold of them.
The Varela Project was a lever that moved the country.
I think of Payá, but also of Osmel Rodríguez (The Chinaman Manicaragua), of Ezequiel Morales and Juan Carlos Reyes Ocaña, of the Ferrer-García brothers and of the hundreds of Cubans who armed with courage went out through our dark country to seek signatures for the Varela Project, to spark the desire to be free or to dream with this treasure that is freedom.
I didn’t support all of Payá’s initiatives, and for this I won his friendship. The first time we met he listened to my arguments without interruption. In 2007 he invited me to review the draft of something he’d been “cooking up” for months and I still appreciate that gesture, that cunning to get me to participate. From that time he called me and I him.
The first close people who talked to me about him were Father Olbier Hernández and Deacon Andrés Tejeda who described him as a contradictory being, helpful, a rebuilding. They and the way in which the former American president Jimmy Carter in some way presented him on that day in 2002* in the Great Hall of the University of Havana depicted the face of Payá Sardiñas in the tapestry of an inclusive Cuba for everyone. It will come, we will have to find it together.
*Translator’s note: Jimmy Carter was allowed to address the Cuban people on live TV and took the opportunity to praise Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project.