Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who was a famed opponent of the communist government in Cuba, died in a car crash on Sunday, the BBC reports. Paya was well-known for his constant and consistent criticism of the Cuban government and the lack of civil rights, such as the freedom to assemble.
The car crash was an unfortunate tragedy after the driver of a rental car crashed into a tree on Sunday. The state media reports that a Swede and a Spaniard were also traveling in the car and were injured in the accident. Another Cuban passenger was also killed in the collision, the BBC reports.
Mr. Paya headed the Varela Project, one of the biggest non-violent campaigns against the Cuban government since the revolution of 1959. The Varela Project was known for collecting thousands upon thousands of signatures in support of changing the system and securing more civil liberties. In 2002, he was able to collect 30,000 signatures in support of changing the one-party system that has run the country for the last 50 years. The government retaliated by collecting a large number of signatures in support of the government, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Mr. Paya was often criticized in recent years for being out of touch with the dissident youth movement, especially after Fidel Castro ceded power to his younger brother, Raul, in 2008. Perhaps the most famous oppositional activist and blogger from Cuba, Yaoni Sanchez, broke the news to readers on her Twitter account. She stated, “RIP Oswaldo Paya (1952-2012), Founder of the Varela Project and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement.” She also reminded readers of Paya’s connection to his Catholic faith and his commitment to his family in Tweets on Sunday.
Despite some criticisms from younger activists, Mr. Paya was renowned for his peaceable and committed nature over his years of activism and resistance. He won the Sakharov Prize in 2002. The prize is presented by the European Union to activists for human rights work. He began the Varela Project in 1998 and continued to push for governmental change right up to his death. He had also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice by former Czech president Vaclav Havel.
The Cuban government often charged that Mr. Paya was an agent of the United States government, paid to stir up trouble in the country. Mr. Paya was known as a soft-spoken electrical engineer who continued work even after about 75 critics of the Castro regime were jailed in 2003 and given lengthy prison sentences.
Investigators are still looking into the nature of the car crash. Some critics have questioned if the crash was an accident at all, though that charge may be extremely difficult to prove. It remains clear that at the time of Mr. Paya’s death, the government was extremely wary of his actions and had been watching his movements over the course of many years. It remains uncertain as to why he was 500 miles outside of Havana, where he lives, on Sunday when the crash occurred.