HAVANA – The arrests of dozens of dissidents tarnished the Havana funeral service and burial of Oswaldo Paya, a key opposition figure who distinguished himself for his activism in favor of a democratic transition in Cuba.
The remains of the 60-year-old Paya, who died in a traffic accident earlier this week, were buried on Tuesday in the Cementerio de Colon in Havana after a Mass celebrated by Cuba’s Catholic primate, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
After the service at Paya’s parish church in the capital and as the funeral procession was en route to the cemetery, Cuban authorities arrested between 40 and 50 dissidents, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Among those arrested were Guillermo Fariñas, Antonio Gonzalez Rodriguez, his wife Ailer, Julio Aleaga, Ricardo Medina and Pavel Herrera, commission head Elizardo Sanchez told Efe.
The majority of those arrested were released a few hours later, including Fariñas, who confirmed to Efe via telephone that he had been transported from the police station to his home in the central city of Santa Clara.
At the Cementerio de Colon, where no incidents were registered, more than 300 people, including relatives, friends, opposition members and several diplomats, said their last goodbyes to Paya and gave him an ovation.
Paya was buried in a family vault.
The dissident’s widow, Ofelia Acevedo, thanked the “brothers of the opposition” for their company and collaboration following the death of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, as well as her companions in that organization.
She also said that the documents and projects for unity created by Paya over the years add up to a “common base” and one of the possible paths to follow as part of the opposition’s struggle for democracy in Cuba.
In his sermon, Ortega said that Paya never strayed from his religion for the sake of his “obvious political vocation,” and supported the difficult task of being “a lay Christian with a political position completely faithful to his ideas without ever being unfaithful to the church.”
With Paya’s death, the Cuban opposition loses a leader who was highly respected both inside and outside the country.
Paya received the European Union’s Sakharov Prize in 2002 after promoting the Varela Project for the island’s transition to democracy, which he presented to the Parliament with the support of thousands of signatures.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of Paya’s funeral service and burial was the participation of many representatives of the island’s Catholic Church hierarchy.
Even Pope Benedict XVI sent a message of condolence and support to the family of the opposition figure that was read by Ortega during the funeral service.
“The aspiration to participate in the political life of the nation is a right and a duty of the Christian layperson,” said Ortega, who recalled that nevertheless “the hierarchy, bishops and clergy in general must not express a partisan political opinion at any time.”
Paya recently questioned the Catholic hierarchy because the dialogue process it opened with the government of Raul Castro and which ultimately led to the release from prison of more than 100 political prisoners excluded dissidents. EFE