Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Cuba dissident death probe call

Rosa Maria Paya speaks at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (AP/Lynne Sladky)

The daughter of a Cuban dissident who led one of the most significant campaigns for political change on the island says there is enough evidence for an international investigation into her father's death.

Rosa Maria Paya said witness accounts, text messages and statements made after a car crash last July involving her father raised questions about the Cuban government's official account. The crash killed Oswaldo Paya and youth activist Harold Cepero.

The two dissidents and another passenger were in a car driven by Spaniard Angel Carromero in Bayamo, Cuba, when he lost control and struck a tree, according to government authorities. Carromero was convicted in Cuba of vehicular homicide and returned to Spain to serve a four-year sentence.

In an interview published last month in The Washington Post, Carromero said he was being followed by a car before the crash. Mr Paya and Mr Cepero told him the car must be from "la Comunista" because it had blue registration plates like those used by the government.

Carromero said the last time he looked in his rear-view mirror he realised the car behind them had got too close "and suddenly I felt a thunderous impact from behind".

He said he was threatened by government officials when he said he had been struck from behind. An officer provided him with a different version of events and said if he went along with it, nothing would happen to him, Mr Carromero said. He said he was heavily drugged at the time. "They gave me another statement to sign - one that in no way resembled the truth," he said.

Speaking at the University of Miami, Mr Paya's daughter said Carromero's statement confirmed the evidence she had already gathered, which included text messages and statements from people at the hospital after the crash. Those accounts included mentions of another vehicle at the scene of the crash, though she did not go into detail. "I'm asking for help so that this investigation is realised," Ms Paya said. "I want to know the truth."

Eight US senators wrote to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organisation of American States last month calling for an investigation.

Mr Paya was the lead organiser of the Varela Project, a signature-gathering drive asking authorities for a referendum on guaranteeing rights such as freedom of speech and assembly in Cuba. The initiative is regarded as the largest non-violent campaign to change the system Fidel Castro established.

Rosa Maria Paya is one of several prominent Cuban dissidents recently allowed to leave the island after Cuba eliminated the exit permit that had been required of islanders for five decades. Cuban authorities can still deny travel in cases of "national security" and not all dissidents have been allowed to leave.

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