18 May 2006

Columbia Honors Cuban Dissident

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Oswaldo Payá

Columbia University, at its 2006 Commencement held yesterday, awarded an honorary doctorate degree to Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, organiser of the Varela Project, a Christian non-violent movement seeking the liberation of Cuba.

Columbia’s President Lee Bollinger mentioned Castro’s refusal to allow Osvaldo Payá to travel to New York to receive the award, and read the citation:

I am supposed to have the duty of presenting Oswaldo Payá, to whom the Trustees have awarded an honorary doctor of laws. Unfortunately, his chair here is empty. Mr. Payá could not join us on this occasion because the Government of Cuba has not granted him an exit visa to be here. We were prepared to confer the degree, but Mr. Payá has written us to ask that Columbia’s leadership allow him to receive the degree in person when he is free to travel. We all look forward to that day. For the present, this is what we would have read to you about him:

Engineer, journalist, activist, tireless campaigner for human rights and advocate for the people of Cuba, you represent the aspirations of millions around the world yearning for freedom and democracy. Based on the Cuban constitution itself, your Varela Project—a peaceful civic initiative to gather signatures across Cuba for the establishment of a free and democratic citizenry — is a model of civic activism. At great personal sacrifice and despite nearly constant surveillance and harassment, you have remained committed to nonviolent dissidence and political change. You embody a life of principle in practice and we are proud to celebrate your extraordinary dedication to peaceful, democratic values by conferring on you the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.

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