Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Spaniard may be charged in vehicular death of Cuban dissident
HAVANA (Reuters) - A Spanish politician may be charged with vehicular homicide in the deaths of prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya and a colleague in a car accident on the communist island 10 days ago, Cuba said on Tuesday.
Communist Party newspaper Granma said legal proceedings had begun against Angel Carromero, a Spanish politician who was driving the car when it skidded into a tree, killing Paya and another dissident, Harold Cepero.
If put on trial and convicted, under Cuban law he could face up to 10 years in prison for each death.
Cuban officials have said Carromero was being "retained," but diplomatic sources said an order for him to be formally imprisoned on a provisional basis had been issued on Monday.
Paya, 60, won the European Union's Sakharov Prize for human rights in 2002 for leading Project Varela, a campaign to bring political reform to Cuba's one-party system. He and his followers secured thousands of signatures in an unsuccessful effort to gain democratic changes.
Carromero and Jens Aron Modig of Sweden, both politicians associated with youth movements for their respective parties, were taking Paya and Cepero to meet other dissidents in eastern Cuba on July 21 when Carromero lost control of their small rental car as he drove over a patch of road under repair.
The car slammed into a tree and the two Cubans, both riding in the backseat and without seat belts, were fatally injured. Carromero and Modig suffered only minor injuries.
In a video shown to reporters on Monday, Carromero said the car had not been forced off the road by another vehicle, as Paya's family had suggested, and blamed the accident on bad road conditions.
The Cuban government views dissidents such as Paya as traitorous mercenaries working with foreign groups and countries to topple the communist system put in place after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution. Dissidents say they are routinely monitored and harassed by state security agents - likely prompting the family to suggest foul play.
Cuban authorities said he was driving too fast, ignored warning signs and jammed on his brakes too abruptly when he skidded on an unpaved section of the highway under repair.
In the video, Carromero, vice president of the ruling Popular Party's "New Generations" movement, requested help in getting out of his predicament and said that the case not become a political matter.
"I ask the international community to please concentrate on getting me out of here and to not use the traffic accident that could have happened to any other person for political ends," he said.
Modig, chairman of the Christian Democrats' youth wing in Sweden, appeared in person at Monday's press conference where he said his memory of the accident was hazy, but that he did not recall another vehicle being involved.
He also apologized for working with dissidents, saying he did not realize his activities were illegal in Cuba. He said he had given Paya 4,000 euros (3,127 pounds) to help finance his work.
Granma said Modig had been allowed to leave Cuba.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks. Editing by David Adams and Philip Barbara)
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