TAMPA — As Rosa Maria Paya was introduced at a function celebrating the 25th anniversary of Casa de Cuba on Sunday, a lone protester barked objections from near the bar at the La Giraldilla restaurant.
Paya, an activist for the Cuba Decides organization, has urged the international community to pressure the Cuban government for a plebiscite — a direct vote of the populace on matters of national importance.
The man was quickly asked to leave, which he did peacefully, said Ralph Fernandez, a Tampa lawyer who represents Casa de Cuba.
“He was a Castro supporter,” Fernandez said. “Instead of a reaction of hostility, he was told he was in a free country, and he was free to leave.”
Paya did not speak at Sunday’s event, but addressed a crowd at Casa de Cuba, 2506 W. Curtis St., on Saturday. She is the daughter of political activist Oswaldo Paya, who was killed under controversial circumstances in 2012.
The Cuban government said that a car in which Paya was riding lost control and crashed, killing him. Others have said they believe Paya, a leading dissident, was assassinated by the Cuban Communist Party.
Among those who believe Paya’s death was no accident is retired U.S. Army Col. Orlando Rodriguez Alvarez, of Tampa, who fled Cuba for America in 1959. Alvarez lauded Paya’s daughter for “continuing his legacy.”
Alvarez was among the crowd of about 200 who celebrated Casa de Cuba’s anniversary at La Giraldilla. The event lasted several hours.
“The Casa de Cuba does not accept any initiative that is to help the current regime” in Cuba, said Alvarez, a Vietnam veteran who earned two Silver Stars, among a slew of other medals in a 28-year military career.
“We basically represent the political side of the community, those in exile for political reasons and those for economic reasons,” he said.
Fernandez was Sunday’s featured speaker, and he addressed the crowd in Spanish. He touted Casa de Cuba as “a pillar of resistance and provider of assistance to similar-thinking and –acting groups.”
“It’s kind of been an umbrella for good work,” Fernandez said, adding that Casa de Cuba leaders are “open to ideologies of what’s best to replace the (current) regime in place” in Cuba.
“I came to the U.S. when I was 8, in 1962,” Fernandez said. “My parents came for political reasons. We were political exiles, part of the first waves (of Cubans) that came” to the U.S.
“This is not a novelty in my life. We’re dedicated to a common goal, to bring freedom to Cuba and promote the safety of the United States.
“Iran and Cuba,” he said, “are the greatest violators of human rights.”
Sunday’s celebration included lunch, a poetry reading and live music.
Rosa Maria Paya, 26, seemed upbeat Sunday afternoon, but her message was firm: Cubans should have the right to vote in multi-party elections, covered impartially by a free press.
“I want that to happen in the next two years,” she said. “We want to open Cuba to Cubans. Cubans who know history support a return to Democracy.
“There are those who stand in opposition, but this is a citizens’ initiative, a citizens’ platform for change.”
Meanwhile, Fernandez said, Casa de Cuba will continue to help “a blend of political prisoners.”
“It’s always there for everyone who wishes to bring about change for the people of Cuba,” he said.