Cuban Catholic Dissident Receives Sakharov Award

Also Criticizes U.S. Embargo Against the Island

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STRASBOURG, France, DEC. 20, 2002 ( Oswaldo Paya, president of the Christian Liberation Movement, has received the Sakharov award — the most important human rights award given by the European Union.

In his acceptance speech Wednesday, he criticized the U.S. embargo against Cuba and pointed out that, in conferring this award, «Europe is trying to tell Cubans: You, too, can have rights.»

Paya, 50, a medical equipment engineer, is coordinator of the Varela Project, a civic initiative that calls for a referendum to implement democratic changes in Cuba. More than 11,000 Cubans have signed it.

Paya later told the press that Washington should seek a rapprochement with Cuba, instead of trying to isolate it with an economic embargo.

«What we, as Cubans, want to know, is how are we going to benefit if we cannot travel or start businesses,» he said. «We have seen that the embargo is not an instrument of change.»

Paya also opposed the United States keeping prisoners from the Afghan war in Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. military base located in Cuba.

Fidel Castro allowed Paya to leave the country to receive the 50,000-euro award, after the intervention of the president of the Spanish government, José María Aznar.

Paya traveled to Strasbourg despite intimidation by the authorities in Cuba. «On the eve of my departure, they knocked down my door; they threatened me and my family with death,» he said. «I was afraid, but one must not let oneself be paralyzed by fear; one must go forward.»

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