Oswaldo Payá, famous Cuban dissident and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, died from injuries sustained in a car accident on Sunday afternoon in La Guabina, 22km from Bayamo in the eastern Granma province.
Payá, 60, was traveling in a rental vehicle at the time. According to witnesses, the car slammed into a tree after the driver lost control of the wheel. A Cuban and fellow activist, Harold Cepero Escalante, is reported to have succumbed, too. Also in the car were two foreigners, who are said to have survived.
Famed dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez reported Payá’s death via Twitter. A hospital worker at Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Bayamo also confirmed his death.
Payá founded and promoted the film “Varela Project,” a campaign that gathered more than 10,000 signatures in support of a referendum on civil rights laws and a call to end four decades of one-party rule. The petition was presented to Cuba’s National Assembly in May 2002.
In recognition of his struggle for a return to democracy in Cuba, the European Parliament awarded Payá the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights and Freedom of Thought in 2002.
Mauricio Claver, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, said, “In the last decade, he was the first dissident that had international resonance.”
As founder and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Payá campaigned for political change, civil rights and the release of political prisoners.