The activist Oscar Peña, president of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, died on the night of August 13 in Miami as a result of COVID-19. A tireless fighter, optimistic and in action to the end, Peña leaves a mark of admiration, affection and also effective leadership among his friends and fellow warriors.
A man of intense activity, who generated great ideas to keep the Cuban regime in check, Peña was one of the first who in the 1980s joined that small group of activists who chose to fight Castroism by denouncing its repressive nature to rights organizations. international humans.
“Oscar was one of those people that we will never forget, of great generosity and at the same time a great strategist,” said Sebastián Arcos Cazabón, who was Peña’s partner in the struggle in Cuba and then the friendship continued in exile.
The loss of Peña, who in recent years assumed the presidency of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, has been a great blow to his friends because it happened suddenly.
The activist, who just turned 70, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Friday, was admitted on Tuesday and died in the early hours of Thursday.
“I met Oscar in the difficult years, when the Committee was beginning to carry out its public activities, and it was a privilege to have him on the Committee because he brought the youth that was needed,” said Arcos Cazabón, who was also very young at the time and joined to the Committee founded by members of a previous generation, such as Ricardo Bofill, Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, Martha Frayde, Eddy López Castillo, Adolfo Rivero Caro.
The second group of activists that make up the Committee, which is joined by Peña and Arcos Cazabón, had as main figures the brothers Sebastián and Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, prominent fighters against the Batista regime who became one of the most internationally recognized opponents and at the same time of those who most strongly faced the repression of Castroism.
“The Cuban Committee for Human Rights brought the opposition out of hiding and inaugurated the fight in the open,” said journalist Juan Manuel Cao, a member of the Committee.
Arcos Cazabón recalls that Peña supported his brothers in struggle when a mob sent by the government made an act of repudiation in front of the house of his uncle Gustavo Arcos Bergnes in Vedado. Two days earlier, on March 8, 1990, another mob appeared at the home of Sebastián Arcos, father and son, in what was the first act of repudiation after those summoned in 1980, during the Mariel exodus, to denigrate people who chose to leave Cuba.
The act of repudiation of human rights activists was the way in which the regime reacted to “a tremendous defeat” in Geneva, Arcos Bergnes pointed out, because it was the first year that the Commission on Human Rights decided to study violations of fundamental rights on the island.
From young communist to opposition
Peña, who was very young at the arrival of Castroism, added to the enthusiasm of the early days. He was part of the youth communist quarry and later he changed his position radically.
“Oscar had an eternal optimism and imagination to expose the regime to the public light,” said Arcos Cazabón.
It was Peña who had the idea that in the 1990s the Committee would make a call for dialogue, as a result of the Cuban government announcing talks with immigrants outside the island, to challenge it to dialogue with the internal opposition.
Arcos Cazabón considers that this is a key moment, because the center of the fight against Castroism is going from being in Miami to the island. “He left the regime naked, because he exposed its hypocrisy by saying that he was willing to dialogue,” he said.
In the 1970s, Peña graduated from the University of Havana in Political Science, Philosophy and History. In exile, he took journalism courses at the University of Miami, and was a columnist for the Nuevo Herald. He also participated in the denunciations made by Cuban activists at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
Rodolfo González, who worked together with Peña as vice president of the Committee in Miami, said that the activist stood out for his joviality and for “throwing bridges” in order to unite.
“He was sincere and transparent, and he had the light to see in the future things that others did not see. In the meetings he always had a line of behavior for the benefit of all ”, said González
In his personal life, Peña “worked hard and in silence to put bread on his table,” added González.
He also had no reservations about expressing his disagreement with something he considered “dark or ugly.”
For his part, journalist Pedro Corzo described Peña as a fighter for democracy in Cuba, and pointed out that he was “a particularly controversial man” because he had “very own criteria.”
Peña always said what he thought and expressed his opinions publicly, he said.
“He has left a very important, very good legacy that man must defend his opinions wherever he is,” said Corzo.
“After the death of Bofill and Oscar Peña, the work of compiling abuses and complaints from the Pro Human Rights Committee cannot be allowed to die,” Cao concluded.