Emotions, mass turnout, arrests, and shouts of “Freedom” characterized the final goodbye to the body of Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas on the morning of July 24th 2012.
In the Savior of the World Parish, located in Cerro, Havana, the daughter of the deceased dissident leader- Rosa Maria Paya– made declarations to all those present which led to a standing ovation which lasted for minutes. The independent blogger and writer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, who was present, explains that Rosa Maria made declarations “towards the end of the Mass, practically in tears, but she did so with lots of valor and an impressive transparency“.
During her speech, Rosa Maria Paya “made it clear that she continued to demand a responsible investigation of the causes of the violent incident which led to her father’s death, carried out by international observers. She also accused the Cuban regime and held them accountable in regards to any other accident which may happen to her, her family, friends, and other activists“, according to Pardo Lazo, who described her words as “a beautiful and strong denouncement, although full of desperation“.
As the Mass came to a conclusion, the large number of attendees began to step out, in procession towards the cemetery behind the funeral vehicle. It was at that moment in which those present- both dissidents and everyday Cubans- began to shout certain slogans, as well as the word “freedom“. The response of the regime did not shock the activists, who already have experience when it comes to police repression.
Lazo said that “immediately, all the police trucks, as well as members of the Rapid Response Brigades carried out a violent operation, with beatings and at least 20 confirmed arrests. The detainees were taken to different stations and many were taken out of Havana“.
Also covering the events was the former political prisoner from Matanzas, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. This activist wrote, “we are surrounded, they are not letting us move… they are not going to stop us. Freedom!” as well as another message, “the police has started to create chaos upon not wanting people to walk 3 kilometers to the cemetery“, explaining that there were no buses available to drive the citizens to their destination, not even for the elderly or sick.
As a result of this “chaos” a number of activists were arrested. Among the confirmed wereGuillermo Fariñas, Antonio Rodiles, Félix Navarro, Carlos Olivera, Ricardo Medina and Juan Francisco Rangel.
(Carlos Olivera, human rights activist from the province of Matanzas, was able to make a phone call to denounce the violence against him and fellow activists. His phone line was rapidly interrupted by the regime. Courtest of @mspianoteacher. Listen here:)
Independent journalists from “Hablemos Press” managed to upload a video of the many people along Penon street, in the municipality of Cerro, as well as the large number of police agents stationed throughout that neighborhood, carrying out aggressive arrests of dissidents who were then shoved into a bus:
Orlando Luis Pardo said that, in his case, he managed to make it to the cemetery where the shouts of freedom continued, as well as displays of solidarity on behalf of the Ladies in White, former political prisoners, relatives of Paya, independent journalists, and everyday Cubans. “[At the cemetery] Paya’s widow- Ofelia- spoke very well“, the writer expressed, “she said that the best thing which had happened in her life was the 26 years which she shared with this grand person who was Oswaldo Paya, and that the seed planted by Paya, in respect to his social projects, were not going to remain empty and that they (the family) were going to continue these projects. The declarations were made publicly. It was a speech full of firmness“.
Meanwhile, military forces stationed themselves along the cemetery, watching and waiting to try and instigate activists to later arrest them.
“It was a very sad day”, said Pardo Lazo.
During night hours, it was confirmed that the majority of detainees from Matanzas were released, while many others still remained imprisoned in the 4th Unit of El Cerro. Among them were bloggers, activists, and independent journalists, among them Antonio Rodiles, the coordinator of the independent debate project “Estado de Sats“. In response, a group of about 40 independent bloggers, writers, and artists- among them Pardo Lazo, Yoani Sanchez, and Ciro Diaz– carried out a sort of sit-in outside the police unit, demanding that their colleagues be freed. The authorities began to release them one by one.