Punishing Cuba’s Rosa Maria Paya

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

HAVANA TIMES — The recent immigration reforms enacted by the Cuban government after a year-long push were greeted with joy by intellectuals, foreign governments and international organizations.

Some responded in that fashion out of diplomatic pragmatism, others out of ignorance, and others due to that diffuse motive where political loyalty mixes with complicity.

At the center stage of their jubilation was the elimination of exit permits, which means — following the logic of the cheerleaders of Raul Castro’s reforms — that Cubans will no longer have to ask permission to travel abroad.

Although the executive order has not yet come into force, I invite those doing the cheering to take a moment and pay attention to the case of Rosa Maria Paya.

She is the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, the recently deceased leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. This is a young woman who has not reached her first quarter-century. A recent university graduate with a bachelor’s degree in physics; she was invited by Chile’s Miguel de Cervantes University to pursue a degree in public policy. She was denied permission to leave the country and she was not even informed of the reason for the refusal.

Noting the articles summarizing the official reasons for deciding who can and cannot travel, one cannot determine in which category Rosa Paya fits.

Discounting technical reasons — though she’s a college graduate, the University of Havana rejected her as a teacher alleging procedural matters — I can’t imagine that this young woman could be placed in the sinister categories of being a threat to the “public interest,” “the foundations of the Cuban State” or “national security.”

In short, Paya is a young woman whose brief path in life has not allowed her to become a leader within the asphyxiating spaces of the opposition. She wasn’t invited to a hostile country or by an organization of the militant opposition; instead, she was invited by a recognized university that is linked to a political current that, while in no way sympathetic to the Cuban regime, is opposed to the blockade/embargo and to violence.

From the official Cuban point of view, Rosa Maria is punishable because she has adopted a position that is politically belligerent with regard to the government, which is completely her right, and because apparently she is attempting to assume the leadership dramatically abandoned by her father, which, needless to note, is also her right.

The Cuban government — hard and as brittle as the ice in which it keeps Cuban society embedded — is pathologically afraid of such civic challenges.

Rosa is not a threat to Cuban national security or a danger to the public interest of society. But she can become a nagging pebble in the authoritarian shoe.

This is why the Cuban government has decided to limit her visibility by preventing her from traveling abroad. It has decided to use the infamous tact of lesson-teaching punishment against Paya, with this understood as imposing example-setting punishment against a person whose behavior deviates from the social norms.
This means sending a message to the thousands of young Cubans who might otherwise eventually think freely, aspire to directly electing their leaders from among various alternatives and try to organize in ways they see fit.

Even if they finally do let her travel — one must always recognize that there’s a limit to political foolishness — the message is clear: travel isn’t a right but a concession.

I think it would be interesting to hear views concerning this case from all of the enthusiastic supporters of the recent immigration reform measures and the unlikely substantial change these represent.

It doesn’t matter if they cheer from the balconies out of prudence, fear, loyalty or complicity. I only ask them, as a compatriot, if political decency will allow us to leave Rosa Maria Paya by herself.

5 thoughts on “Punishing Cuba’s Rosa Maria Paya

  • Well said Griffin. But oh I do know individuals with reactions like Pedro’s. They are paid with government dollars to pretend the folk are still supporting them. These individuals live with much less that the Cuban working at Disneyland. They have “mouths” to feed at home and their ego is too big to accept they are also victims of a cruel system. Khadafi, Hussein …. when will people learn?

  • Pedro,

    You might be interested to learn that there are many Cuban immigrants in America working highly productive careers as doctors, nurses, lawyers, university professors, mechanics, writers, artists, athletes, engineers, businessmen, politicians and countless other professions.

    You sneer at Cubans in America working at Disneyland, and to be sure there probably are some, where they make a better wage than the average Cuban earns back home. But is that any worse than working as dancers or musicians at tourist resorts, or the picturesque old ladies in Habana Viejo, smoking cigars & begging coins from tourists who snap their photos? Tell me, which one is the cartoon character? Which one has a real life with a real future?

    Or what of the well educated prostitutes working the Malecón? Is that not a more tragic assault to human dignity than sweeping up popcorn in Orlando?

  • Before the revolution, Cuba was a top destination from immigrants. People moved TO Cuba. After the revolution, Cuba is almost entirely a emigration source. People move away from the island. If the regime wanted to prevent the brain drain of talent, they would try to make the country a better place to live.

    They don’t have much time left to make that change in direction as the national demographics are running against them. Cuba has one of the oldest and most rapidly aging populations in the world. By 2030, 1/3 of the population will be over 60. Cuba has the highest abortion rate in the Western hemisphere. Young men & women of child bearing age continue to the island by the thousands. As the population shrinks and ages, there will be fewer Cubans left to work the tourist resorts, the sugar plantations, the tobacco fields and far too few nurses & doctors to look after the masses of senior citizens. They won’t even have enough young people to work for the police and various security agencies that serve to keep the population in line.


  • We don’t need any of those in the island…They might as well go to Disneyland where they belong…Side by side with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck…And some less mouths to feed and some less “dissidents” living on U.S. dollars from abroad, O’er them work their living in Disneyland…

  • The Castros have created a regime so perverted in its logic that it chooses to punish its opposition by forcing them to live in Cuba. Ms. Paya is only one such example. It remains to be seen if the Castros will permit Yoani Sanchez to leave once the reforms take effect in January. The other test of these reforms will be when someone like Gloria Estefan or Willy Chirino makes plans to visit the island. Will they be given entry visas? How about Duque Hernandez or the countless physicians who sought asylum in the US while on medical missions outside of Cuba. Protecting against “brain drain” is at least debatable. Denying travel, in or out of Cuba, based on political correctness is unjust and indefensible.

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