By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com
Angel Carromero says a Cuban officer slapped him “a couple of times” to dissuade him from insisting that the death of leading dissident Oswaldo Payá was caused by State Security agents and was not an accident.
The evidence also led him to conclude that Payá and another dissident, Harold Cepero, survived a car crash and were murdered later by State Security, Carromero told El Nuevo Herald Tuesday during his most detailed recounting yet of the crash.
The Spaniard’s comments by phone from Madrid shed new light on a fatal incident that has led the Payá family, the U.S. and other governments and many human rights activists around the world to demand an independent investigation of the deaths.
Carromero said he is now speaking at length about the crash and its aftermath to help Payá’s relatives — he is eager to testify at any lawsuit they file against Cuba, he noted — and to mark the anniversary of the deaths on July 22.
Cuba’s version is that he was driving a rented Hyundai too fast and hit a tree near the eastern city of Bayamo. Payá died on the spot and Cepero later at a hospital. Another passenger, Jens Aron Modig of Sweden, was not injured. Carromero was convicted of vehicular homicide and was freed to serve his four-year prison sentence in Spain.
Carromero says that a Cuban man in military uniform “slapped me around a couple of times” to persuade him that he was wrong when he insisted on saying that a car with government license plates had rammed his vehicle from behind and caused the crash.
“That did not happen. Slap. Slap,” he recalled the officer saying. “It wasn’t a beating. A couple of slaps because they wanted me to change my version of events.”
Carromero said his car had been tailed by three different government vehicles, including one marked police cruiser, from the time the foursome left Havana the morning of July 22 to visit dissidents in eastern Cuba. The two Europeans were members of conservative political parties that often support the island’s opposition.
Evidencing the intensity of the government’s interest on Payá and the Europeans, “Yohandry Fontana,” widely believed to be a front for State Security operations, tweeted six hours before the crash that Payá was on his way to the beach resort of Varadero.
Carromero said they never drove to Varadero. But on the previous day, he added, he had exchanged 4,000 Euros into Cuban currency in Havana. When the teller asked him why he was changing so much, he replied that he was going to Varadero.
The police cruiser that initially tailed them gave way to an old red Lada as they made their way east, he said, and shortly before the crash was replaced by a newer blue car, also with clearly visible blue license plates and with two men aboard.
That car kept getting closer and Payá told him to maintain his normal speed of about 50-60 kph, the Spaniard said. But he grew scared, “It’s terrifying to look at the rear view mirror and see the eyes of the person that is looking at you.
“I felt the impact and lost control,” he said. He fainted and does not recall hitting a tree, certainly not with the kind of impact that would have killed two people. He never saw the blue car or its passengers again.