By Fabiola Santiago, fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com
At long last, Angel Carromero has broken his silence from the confines of his negotiated parole status in Spain.
He was the woozy-eyed Spanish political activist seen from Havana on a prosecutorial videotape issuing an unconvincing mea culpa that he was driving too fast, that he was at fault for the deaths of two prominent Cuban dissidents in a car crash last summer. Carromero’s “trial” for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero was Cuban political theater at its best, a closed-door concoction to cover up wrongdoing — state-sponsored murder? — a tactic Cubans in exile know too well. With Carromero now back in his homeland, the light of truth — tenuous but illuminating — has begun to shine on the deaths of human rights champion Payá and Cepero, the young activist who accompanied the respected leader on a trip across the island to spread the message of peaceful, democratic change.
The car crash in which Payá and Cepero lost their lives on July 22 was no accident, Carromero told Payá’s family in Spain this week. Another vehicle rammed the car Carromero was driving and forced it off the road, he said. While Payá and Cepero, the ones seriously hurt, were left in the car, men in a third car took away Carromero and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig, another human rights activist accompanying them. “We don’t know what happened to my father and [Cepero] … but hours later they were both dead,” Payá’s daughter, Rosa María, told El Nuevo Herald after her conversation with Carromero.
The Cuban government contends that Payá died instantly and that Cepero died a few hours later in a Bayamo hospital. But they have refused to allow anyone to see the autopsy reports. Modig, at first detained along with Carromero, was allowed to return to Stockholm after Carromero issued his mea culpa. He has remained silent as the Spanish government negotiated Carromero’s return to Spain to serve out his Cuban sentence.
In Cuban custody, the only way to survive is to outsmart the jailers. Carromero and Modig did what they had to to secure their way out of Cuba. But it’s time now to speak up and tell the truth — and for the governments of the European Union, Latin America and the United States to push for an international investigation of the car crash and its aftermath. In a parliamentary hearing Thursday, Spanish government leaders admitted under pressure that they’re in a tenuous situation with Cuba because four Spanish citizens remain in Cuban prisons and they’re negotiating those releases as well. It sounded almost like an admission of blackmail.
Payá and Cepero deserve justice. Both men had been accosted by pro-government mobs, were constantly followed by state security, and had been repeatedly threatened. In fact, Payá didn’t make trips outside of Havana because of the danger, but in the Europeans’ company he felt a measure of safety. A state-sponsored murder is a serious charge, but this is nothing new for a government with a record of dealing violently with the peaceful opposition.