The 17th anniversary of Project Varela: The pro-democracy campaign that shook Cuba’s socialist dictatorship

Yesterday marked the 17th anniversary of Project Varela in Cuba. Led by opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, the pro-democracy campaign sent shock waves through the Castro dictatorship that continue to haunt them to this day.

It was an unprecedented achievement that forever recorded Oswaldo Paya’s name in Cuban history, and one that ultimately led the Castro regime to assassinate him in 2012.

John Suarez in Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Project Varela: Looking back at the nonviolent campaign 17 years later

The nonviolent campaign that shook up the dictatorship in Cuba, changed the Cuban Communist Constitution and continues to haunt the Castro regime.

17 years ago today, carrying 11,020 signed petitions in support of the Varela Project, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and  Regis Iglesias Ramírez walked with the bulky card board boxes labeled Project Varela turning them into the Cuban National Assembly.

Over Twitter today Rosa María Payá, the daughter of Oswaldo Payá, recalled this important day stating: “17 years after the first installment of Project Varela. It’s time to finish the feat and obtain the rights. We owe it to those who are no longer here and those who will come.

The New York Times reported on this historic event at the time:

Two days before a historic visit to Cuba by the former President Jimmy Carter, human rights activists today delivered an extraordinary challenge to the Communist government of President Fidel Castro in the form of petitions signed by more than 11,000 people seeking greater freedom. The petition drive, known as the Varela Project, calls for a referendum under the terms of the Cuban Constitution on whether there should be more freedom of expression, an amnesty for political prisoners and a chance for ordinary citizens to own small businesses. The signed petitions were delivered this morning to the National Assembly, after supporters painstakingly verified each signature, in the most significant peaceful effort to bring reform to Cuba in four decades. ”All of these Cubans, who with great courage and sacrifice have signed Project Varela, are the social vanguard for peaceful change in Cuba,” said Oswaldo Paya, who led the drive. He said changes in the rights of Cubans could only be achieved peacefully.

The three activists, members of the Christian Liberation Movement, would pay a high price, along with dozens of others, for advocating human rights reforms within the existing legal frame work in Cuba. In March of 2003 both Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias were arrested and subjected to political show trials and sentenced to long prison sentences. They would spend years in prison followed by forced exile. Oswaldo Payá was killed, together with Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012 under circumstances that point to a state security orchestrated extrajudicial execution.

Continue reading HERE.

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