By Juan O. Tamayo, jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com
The Obama administration has joined growing calls for an independent investigation into the deaths of Cuba’s most respected dissident Oswaldo Payá and a fellow dissident in a car crash that some allege was caused by state security agents. “The United States supports the calls for an international investigation with independent international observers” into the deaths of Payá and Harold Cepero, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday. “The people of Cuba and the families of these two activists deserve a clear, credible accounting of the events that resulted in their tragic deaths,” Nuland said during a news briefing.
Nuland’s comments came amid growing calls for an independent investigation into the July 22 car crash that killed Payá and Cepero, an activist in Payá’s Christian Liberation Movement.
The Cuban government says Spanish politician Angel Carromero caused the deaths when he accidentally slammed the car into a tree in eastern Cuba. Payá and Cepero were passengers. Carromero and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig survived.
A Cuban court sentenced Carromero to four years in prison for vehicular homicide. He returned to Spain in December under a bilateral agreement that allows each country’s citizens to serve sentences in their own country. Carromero now says his rented car was rammed from behind and forced to crash by a red vehicle with government license plates, and that he had been followed by state security vehicles from the time the four men left Havana.
A bipartisan group of six U.S. senators signed a letter earlier this week requesting that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a part of the Organization of American States, investigate the deaths. “Recent interviews published in Spanish news media indicate that… Carromero is innocent and that the vehicle carrying Payá was deliberately attacked by Cuban government officials,” said the letter.
Sent to ICHR executive secretary Emilio Alvarez Icaza, it was signed by Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, his Republican counterpart Marco Rubio, Arizona Republican John McCain, Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk. “Oswaldo Payá was a brave man trying to peacefully advocate for greater political freedoms for his Cuban brothers and sisters,” the letter noted. “It increasingly looks like he paid for that effort with this life. “His memory and family deserve an honest and independent accounting of what happened,” the senators concluded.
Payá’s relatives have repeatedly demanded an independent investigation of the crash, and several Spanish and other European politicians, mostly conservatives, have followed suit. His daughter, Rosa Maria, has said the family might also file a lawsuit against Cuba in Spanish courts because her father had Spanish citizenship.