HAVANA – Cuban opposition figure Oswaldo Paya, one of the most popular and best-known leaders of the internal dissident movement on the communist island, died Sunday in a traffic accident in the eastern province of Granma, various sources reported.
An employee at Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Hospital in the city of Bayamo confirmed that Paya had died, and this was also reported on Twitter by well-known regime critic and blogger Yoani Sanchez and by the pro-government blogger Yohandry.
In addition, a spokesman for the Havana Archbishopric said that Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega spoke Sunday afternoon with Paya’s wife and she confirmed the tragic news.
Many additional details of the accident are not yet known, but some sources said that Paya died after being involved in a car crash near the city of Bayamo. He was reported to be riding in a vehicle with three other people at the time.
Apparently, one of the other people in the vehicle also died, and the other two were injured.
The Miami Herald reported that Paya’s official website says that he is “missing” and directly blames Cuban President Raul Castro for the popular dissident’s death.
Paya, a 60-year-old medical equipment engineer, was the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and one of the most prominent and internationally known members of Cuba’s internal dissident movement.
He was the promoter of the so-called Varela Project, which he in 2002 presented in the Cuban legislature along with some 11,000 signatures to propose a referendum on a democratic and peaceful transition on the island. The petition was rejected by the Castro regime, but Paya emerged as the leading advocate of peaceful democratic change in Cuba.
Thereafter, Paya continued to call for a national dialogue among all Cubans, including Communist Party members and leaders, to discuss the peaceful transition to democracy.
In October 2002, the European Parliament awarded Paya the Sakharov Prize in recognition of his peaceful struggle for human rights and a democratic transition in Cuba. He had also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.