Sen. Cruz Delivers Floor Speech Honoring Oswaldo Paya, Cuban Dissidents
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered remarks on the Senate floor to honor the memory of Oswaldo Paya during what would have been the week of his 71st birthday.
Sen. Cruz said:
“The Cuban people should know the American people stand with them against tyranny, against the communist oppression, the poverty, the misery the death under which they live every day.”
Watch the speech here.
Madam President, I rise today to honor the memory of Oswaldo Paya, who would have celebrated his 71st birthday this week. His memory and his story have been an inspiration to dissidents across the world, and I’d like to briefly retell it here today.
Oswaldo Paya was a dissident and a democracy activist in Cuba with unrelenting passion and dedication. He was someone who stood up against the Castro regime at very direct risk to his own life. He had incredible courage. He spoke up for human rights. He spoke up for free speech, he spoke up for democracy. And 11 years ago, Oswaldo Paya was murdered.
On July 22 2012, Paya left his house with three other people to go visit friends. From the start of their journey their car was followed. On the way the Cuban police drove Paya’s car off the road and killed him. The crash is widely believed to have been orchestrated by the Castro regime.
Paya have long been a thorn in the side of the Castros, even from a young age. He was the only person at his school who had refused to join the Communist Youth. As a teenager, he publicly opposed the communist crackdown on protesters in Czechoslovakia who were fighting for freedom, and he was punished with three years in prison.
Paya went on to found the Varela Project, which sought a referendum on Cuba’s communist system. Their demands were simple: democratic government, religious liberty, freedom of expression, and the freedom to start businesses. Paya manage to get 11,000 signatures to petition the government to hold a referendum, and eventually 20,000 people supported the referendum – 20,000 people risked their lives by standing with Oswaldo Paya for freedom. But the Cuban government refused to hold a referendum.
Paya’s fight for freedom made him a target, repeatedly, of the Communist Party in Cuba. They harassed him, tried to intimidate him, and arrested him numerous times. And in 2012, they killed him. Paya’s friend and the driver of the car said that when he awoke after the crash, he was confronted at the hospital by a government operative and the hospital was flooded with uniformed military personnel. Under extreme duress, drugged and threatened with death by government officials, he signed a confession that directly contradicted what he knew to be true: that the communist regime had just murdered Oswaldo Paya.
I’ve met multiple times with Oswaldo Paya’s daughter, Rosa Maria, who’s an incredible, courageous, powerful leader in her own right, and we’ve discussed ways we can continue her father’s fight for justice in Cuba. And one of the things I’ve done is I filed legislation to rename the street in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. Oswaldo Paya Way.
Renaming the street in front of the Cuban embassy would send a powerful message to the communist regime. During the Cold War, President Reagan followed this very same strategy. He renamed the street in front of the Soviet embassy Sakharov Plaza, after the famed human rights dissident in the Soviet Union. It was part of a broader strategy to call out the evil regime.
My strategy is the same here. Some people may think a street name is not that big a deal. But think about it for a moment. If you change a street name, it means anyone who wants to write to the Cuban embassy will have to write Oswaldo Paya’s name. Or if you need to go there, you’ll have to look up the address and see the same.
Tyranny exists in darkness. Oppressive regimes are terrified by dissidents. Members of the Cuban government, who deal with the embassy will have to acknowledge that Paya existed, and that this hero who was wrongfully murdered was real. They will have to say his name.
There is power in saying his name. I want to tell you another story that illustrates just how powerful this renaming strategy can be. Several years ago, I introduced legislation to rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Liu Xiaobo Plaza. Liu Xiaobo was a Nobel Peace Laureate and democracy activist in China, who was wrongfully imprisoned there. My bill ended up passing the United States Senate 100 to nothing. Every senator, Republican and Democrat, agreed with that bill. Sadly, even though it was a Democrat Senate at the time, the Republican House failed to take up the bill. So it didn’t pass into law.
But here’s an epilogue to that story. The beginning of the Trump administration in 2017, I was having breakfast with Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State. We were at Foggy Bottom at the State Department. We’re talking about China at one point and he said he had just had a meeting with his counterpart, the foreign minister of China. He said the foreign minister came out and said the Chinese Communist government has three top priorities in foreign policy. And Rex kind of shook his head. He said Ted, one of their top three priorities is to prevent your bill to rename the street in front of the embassy from passing.
I’ll tell you what I told Rex that morning. At the time Liu Xiaobo had passed away. He had never collected the over $1 million that he was entitled to for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. But his widow Liu Xia was still in China, China would not let her go. And I told Rex, you go back to China and you tell them the following: If they release Liu Xia, if they let her go, I will stop pressing to pass this bill. But if they don’t, I will continue pressing to pass it, and we will succeed. I’ve already passed it 100 to nothing in the United States Senat,e and the next time we’re gonna get it passed in the House as well, and get it passed into law.
Madam President, just a few weeks later, Communist China released Liu Xia. She was able to receive the prize money for the Nobel Peace Prize and escape the oppression of Communist China.
Madam President, this story speaks volumes about the weakness of a tyrannical regime – just how vulnerable they are to sunshine, to truth, to transparency, to being called out. Renaming the street in front of the Cuban embassy after Oswaldo Paya would shine a light and would highlight the truth about the communist regime in Cuba. It would be a powerful tool in bringing down the machinery of oppression there.
We saw not long ago thousands of Cubans taking to the street fighting for liberty. The Cuban people should know the American people stand with them against tyranny, against the communist oppression, the poverty, the misery, the death under which they live every day. And it would be a powerful tool to bringing down the machinery of oppression in Cuba in the nonviolent way that Oswaldo Paya so powerfully championed.
This Congress, I’m very hopeful that my bill to rename the street in front of the Cuban embassy Oswaldo Paya Way will be passed by both chambers. Oswaldo Paya fought for a free Cuba – Cuba Libre. A Cuba built on human decency, on human rights, where citizens are heard, not murdered, by their government. Let’s come together, Democrats and Republicans, to honor Oswaldo Paya. Let’s come together and force the communist regime to say his name. I yield the floor.”
Read the full text of the bill here.