Oswaldo Paya Sardinas has transformed his dream of peaceful, democratic reform in Cuba into the reality of concrete civic advocacy.
In 1997, Paya founded the Varela Project, which effectively uses nonviolent means to promote human rights. His dedication to the principles of democracy and social justice has inspired fellow citizens as well as democrats around the world.
Imprisoned at the age of 17 for openly criticizing the Castro regime, Paya was influenced by the now-famous “Prague Spring” in Czechoslovakia. He formed the Varela Project, named for 19th century independence leader Padre Felix Varela, as a call for a national referendum on open elections, free speech, enterprise and freedom for political prisoners.
Despite government intimidation against organizers, the Varela Project continued its drive for petition signatures calling for such a referendum until October 2003.
For his courageous and steadfast commitment to fundamental human rights, NDI was proud to honor Oswaldo Paya as the recipient of the 2002 W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award.