Tuesday, July 31, 2012

European survivors of crash in which Cuban dissident Payá was killed insist it was an accident

Posted on Monday, 07.30.12

European survivors of crash in which Cuban dissident Payá was killed
insist it was an accident

In person and in video, they insist crash that killed Cuban dissidents
was accidental
By Juan O. Tamayo

Two European politicians who survived the crash in which Cuban dissident
Oswaldo Payá died have denied claims they were driven off the road by
another vehicle, appearing in person and in a video before journalists
Monday in Havana.

The government-arranged presentation did nothing to assuage Payá's
relatives, who are demanding to speak in person with the Europeans, or
human rights activists who say they will not trust anything the
survivors say until they are safely out of Cuba.

The version told by the Europeans hewed to the government's description
of the car crash July 22 near the eastern city of Bayamo that killed
Payá, 60, and Harold Cepero, 31, a member of his Christian Liberation

Angel Carromero of Spain, who was driving, and passenger Jens Aron Modig
of Sweden, both 27, suffered minor injuries. Carromero is in police
custody while Modig is being held by immigration officials. Neither had
been seen in public until Monday.

In a video apparently recorded as Carromero spoke with authorities
investigating the crash, the Spaniard declared that his rented Hyundai
Accent was not rammed by another vehicle but tried to sidestep personal
responsibility for the crash.

"No other vehicle hit us from behind. Simply, I was driving, saw a
pothole and took the precaution of any driver, which is to brake
lightly. The car lost control," he said.

The government's version is that Carromero missed a road sign warning of
repairs ahead, was speeding when he hit a dirt section and then slammed
on the brake too hard, loosing control of the car on the gravel and
crashing into a tree.

Carromero, a leader of the youth wing of Spain's ruling Popular Party,
also makes as plea on the video to leave Cuba, where he could face one
to 10 years in prison if convicted of causing the fatal accident.

"As for the news reports that I have been allowed to read, I ask the
international community to please focus on getting me out of here, and
not on using a traffic accident, which can happen to anyone, for
political ends," the Spaniard says.

Appearing in person before foreign journalists in Havana, Modig said he
was snoozing when the car crashed and added, "I have no recollection
that any other car was involved in the accident," according to the
journalists' reports.

Modig also referred to his memory when asked about claims by Payá's
relatives that he had sent text messages from his cellular phone to
contacts in Sweden, before or after the crash, reporting his car had
been rammed by another vehicle.

"I don't remember. I was simply informing that I was well after the
accident," declared Modig, president of Youth League of Sweden's
Christian Democratic Party. "I sent text messages, I don't know to how
many people, after the accident."

Asked if he will change his version of the crash once he leaves Cuba,
the Swede replied, "In this case my apologies are honest. All the Cubans
that I have met here … have been kind, have treated me well."

Payá's widow, Ofelia Acevedo, told El Nuevo Herald on Monday that she
would continue to push to meet with the Europeans in person, to hear
their version of the crash, because the Cuban government cannot be
trusted to tell the truth about her husband's death.

"The Payá family does not accept the word of a government that
repeatedly threatened to kill him," she said, adding that just last
month the couple was involved in a suspicious traffic accident in Havana
that almost killed them.

Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said the Modig and
Carromero statements fell short of "providing a complete vision of what

"We reiterate our position that as long as the two remain in Cuba, their
statements would be subject to the inevitable pressures of the
government," said Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights
and National Reconciliation.

Modig also provided a possible explanation of why Cuban authorities have
detained him since the crash, saying that he "understood" that his and
Carromero's activities supporting dissidents in Cuba were illegal.

The Swede said his goals during the visit were to hand some cash to
Payá, meet with members of his Christian Liberation Movement in order to
exchange experiences and to facilitate any travels around the island
that Payá needed to undertake.

Modig said he brought 4,000 Euros — about $5,200 — for dissidents but
did not clarify whether all the cash was for Payá. He also delivered
money and equipment to dissidents during his first trip to Cuba in 2009,
he added.

Payá was known to reject U.S. aid for pro-democracy programs in Cuba,
but was close to Christian Democratic parties abroad. Cuba has outlawed
cooperating with the U.S. programs, branding them as thinly veiled
attempts to topple the communist system.

The Europeans planned to contact "miniscule groups of the internal
counterrevolution in Santiago de Cuba province to provide them with
financing," Gustavo Machín, head of the government's International Press
Center in Havana, told the EFE news agency.

"I understand that these activities are not legal in Cuba and want to
apologize for having come to this country to undertake illegal
activities," Modig was quoted as saying.

This report was supplemented with news agency reports from Havana.


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