Cuban Dissident Oswaldo Paya on Giving Peace a Chance

It Has to Be Personal Before It Can Be Transmitted to Others, He Says

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HAVANA, FEB. 20, 2003 ( Dissident Oswaldo Paya is head of the Christian Liberation Movement, a peaceful initiative in Cuba that promotes democracy and the defense of human rights by words alone.

The name of this dissident and Christian leader appears, together with that of John Paul II, among the list of 150 people the Norwegian Nobel Institute is evaluating to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

In this interview with ZENIT, Paya reflects on the meaning of peace, following the announcement of his candidacy.

Q: How did you receive the news of your candidacy for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize?

Paya: I knew that my name had been proposed by some associations, and that some personalities, Vaclav Havel among them, supported my candidacy. Those who have proposed me in Latin America and Europe are not recognizing me personally, but rather the Cuban civic movement, an extremely difficult peaceful movement that we are promoting in Cuba.

Cuba has had a tradition of violent changes. Peace in Cuba is important for peace in America. However, I am not alone in this endeavor, rather, [I’m] within a great movement that opts for the peaceful way even in the midst of violent repression.

This very day we denounced the injustice committed against two companions who were beaten and arrested. They told us that the guards who detained them asked them to take up arms, because the revolution can only be removed with blood. We do not want imposition by violence and death. This is why we do not consent to the motto «Socialism or Death.»

Q: What would the award of the prize mean for you personally and for Cuba?

Paya: I have no vanity at the personal level. The Varela Plan is a national campaign in which I work with my family. My wife, my brothers, all my family, like me, have dedicated their lives to achieve a peaceful change in Cuba. It is very difficult, when you suffer persecution, loneliness, and when the Cuban reality appears so distorted.

When I traveled to Europe to receive the Sakharov award from the European Parliament, I realized that there, also, many see Cuba as a confrontation between rightists and leftists. I would like them to see us as 11 million human beings who «have a right to rights.»

Q: What does peace mean to you and what must be done to achieve it?

Paya: Peace must first be defined in the realm of the soul and heart of the human being. It has to do with recognition of one’s dignity.

I discover that dignity in faith, although I don’t say that others who do not have faith do not also have the dignity of the freedom of the children of God. Their freedom is so great that they might not recognize it. Peace has to do with knowing that one is doing good; love of neighbor is the basis of peace.

On a more personal level, the peace of God is for me the reason and source of all peace for my family, for children and friends. This is why, when you talk to me about an award for peace, I think — although I read the Bible every day, I am not good at quoting verses — of that phrase, «Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men.» Glory is for God in the highest, and on earth peace is proclaimed as a vocation of the human being.

Q: What are the traits of peace at the social level?

Paya: At the social level, peace has to do with the recognition of a brother in the other, beyond cultures, races. … There are so many areas of life that are designed to be realms of peace but which are, however, realms of conflict.

I think it is because the other is not recognized as a brother, with each one having the right to happiness. Peace, in the first instance, is personal; only then is it transmitted to structures.

Peace has much to do with justice. There is no peace where there is a majority condemned to marginalization or poverty, or where there is an excluded minority, the fruit of egoism.

Egoism then becomes the system and imbues the system. But war is always a false way to a solution. It can never be the solution to a problem. If war is the solution, violence is triumphing.

In the Liberation Movement, we do not like to talk about a peaceful «method» but about the option of peace, of a way that is also a goal because, from the moment one opts for the peaceful way, one is freed from violence on two planes: One is not subjected to violence and one does not act with violence.

Q: What did your recent meeting with the Holy Father, another candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, mean to you?

Paya: My meeting with the Holy Father was very special because I was able to see him on a trip that lasted barely 24 hours.

I did not have a private meeting with him. I received his blessing. I kissed the hand of that man of flesh and blood who has sacrificed himself for the People of God, and it was all full of meaning for me, although I don’t know if the Holy Father knew that it was a leader of the Cuban Liberation Movement who knelt before him.

Up until now I have not spoken to anyone about this, but the Holy Father’s thought has been a constant source of inspiration for the Liberation Movement. The Pope speaks in a balanced way about all forms of oppression and not just about one.

This caught our attention very early on. However, my link with the Church is not political but as a son of the Church. I did not leave her in the midst of persecution. We arose as a movement in Cuba because we defend the freedom of the children of God. All these contrasts were present to me during my visit to the Holy Father.

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