Getting at the truth of car crash that killed Oswaldo Payá
By Editorial Board, Sunday, August 19, 12:13 AM
ON THE AFTERNOON of July 22, in Cuba's eastern Granma province, a blue
Hyundai rental car was in a terrible accident. The driver was Angel
Carromero, leader of the youth wing of Spain's ruling party. Sitting
next to him in the front passenger seat was Jens Aron Modig, president
of the youth league of Sweden's Christian Democratic party. Both
suffered minor injuries. Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero
were in the back seat and were killed.
Mr. Payá was a leading voice for freedom in Cuba, champion of the Varela
Project, a petition drive in 2002 seeking a national referendum to
guarantee democracy. Many organizers of the Varela Project were later
arrested by Fidel Castro's security forces, but Mr. Payá was undeterred
and continued to push for a free Cuba. The accident that took his life
was blamed by the authorities on reckless driving by Mr. Carromero, who
has been charged and is being held in Cuba. In a video made by the
authorities just after the accident, Mr. Carromero says that he saw a
pothole, braked and lost control of the car, which careened off the road
and hit a tree. Mr. Modig, now back in Sweden, says that he was asleep
in the car and doesn't remember what happened.
Mr. Payá's family is not satisfied. Although Mr. Payá was no longer at
the forefront of the Cuban dissident movement, he was an authoritative
voice for democracy, and he often received death threats, according to
his daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, 23. Only weeks before, in June, Mr. Payá
and his wife were driving in Havana when they were hit by another car on
the rear passenger side. They suffered minor injuries, but the crash
added to their anxiety and suspicions.
On the day of Mr. Payá's death, his family received a text message at
3:18 p.m. from friends in Madrid inquiring about reports of a car wreck.
The people in Spain did not know that Mr. Payá was in the vehicle with
Mr. Carromero and Mr. Modig. According to Ms. Payá, the text message
says that the car was "forcefully hit and pushed off the road." It does
not say by whom. A photograph of the Hyundai after the accident shows a
vehicle crushed from behind.
The two survivors were interrogated at length by the Cuban state
security apparatus; Mr. Modig acknowledged bringing about $5,000 to
support Mr. Payá's political work. Neither survivor may feel comfortable
saying what happened as long as Mr. Carromero remains in a Cuban prison.
But the suggestion in the text message that the car was forced off the
road is sufficient to cast doubt on the official version.
Mr. Payá's family has called for an independent investigation of the
crash, although it is not likely to get one from Mr. Castro's police
state. The two survivors might eventually have more to say, and we've
heard there are additional text messages from the scene. We think an
outside investigation could shed light on whether Mr. Payá's inspiring
torch was snuffed out by a vengeful state.
"My father dedicated his life to fight for citizen rights for all
Cubans," Ms. Payá told us. "I am afraid that some evil force took my
father's life. But I think his passion for freedom is now alive in
people. Cubans are awakening."
A first step toward fulfilling Mr. Payá's promise would be to determine
the truth about how he died.