The founder and president of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, is among the 197 candidates nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.

According to Nobel officials, those nominated include 164 individuals and 33 organizations. It’s the second largest number of candidates in the history of the Prize.  The largest number was in 2005, with 199 candidates.

The five member committee met last Tuesday to begin whittling down the number of candidates after nominations ended in February.  The Nobel Peace Prize includes $1.62 million, which can be shared by up to three winners, who will be announced on October 10.

Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas was born in Havana, Cuba, on February 29, 1952, and is one of the most well-known democratic activists in the country.  He organized the Varela Project, which was an effort based on Cuba’s constitution to collect enough signatures to present a referendum for political change to the legislature.

According to Paya, these changes, if they had been accepted by the government and approved by popular vote, would have introduced freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, free elections, freedom of business and amnesty for political prisoners.

Paya grew up in a Catholic family and was a child when the Cuban government began its repression of the Church.  As a youth he refused to join the Communist Party of Cuba and its youth organizations.  However, at the age of 16 he was drafted into the Cuban army.

While in the army, he was punished for refusing to participate in the transportation of a group of political prisoners and afterwards was condemned to forced labor on the Island of Pinos (known today as the Isle of Youth) for three years.

As a devout Christian, he attributes the cause of his punishment to his refusal to compromise his religious beliefs.  Paya later became and engineer and now works as a manufacturer of anesthetic equipment.  He is married and has three children.

Together with other lay Catholics he founded the Christian Liberation Movement in 1988, a political movement with no religious affiliation that seeks to advance the human and civil rights of Cubans.

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