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Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom

Oswaldo Payá

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (1952-2012) was a Cuban civic leader, dissident, and pro-democracy activist. Born in Havana in 1952, he refused to join the Young Communist League after the revolution and spent three years in a labor camp for declining to transport political prisoners during his mandatory military service. After the University of Havana expelled him, he attended night school and became an engineer. Payá was given the chance to leave Cuba in 1980, but chose to stay despite constant harassment and intimidation from the Cuban regime. He founded the Christian Liberation Movement to oppose one-party rule and advocate for civil rights. He attempted to run for a seat in Cuba’s National Assembly in 1992, but was barred. Mentored by Václav Havel, the former dissident who had become president of the Czech Republic, Payá led the Varela Project, a petition drive for laws enshrining freedom of speech and multi-party democracy, which collected 25,000 Cuban signatures. In 2012, Payá and his associate Harold Cepero were killed in a car crash orchestrated by agents of the Castro regime. Payá has received numerous awards, including the European Parliament’s 2002 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and he was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize. A resolution is pending in the U.S. Senate to designate the section of road in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. as “Oswaldo Payá Way.”