Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá was killed in a one-car crash caused by a Spanish politician who was driving too fast and slammed on the brakes too quickly, the Interior Ministry said Friday in the first official report on the accident.
The ministry’s report made no mention of allegations that another vehicle forced the car off the road and said Spanish politician Angel Carromero, who was driving, told police investigators that he lost control of the vehicle on a stretch of dirt road.
The report was the first official word on the cause of the accident that killed the 60-year-old Payá, a respected opposition activist and founder of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and the Varela Project demanding basic freedoms.
Payá and MCL activist Harold Cepero died in a crash Sunday near the southeastern city of Bayamo. Carromero and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig were slightly injured and remain detained in Cuba. They have made no public comment so far.
Payá’s wife, Ofelia Acevedo, and others have told journalists that the Europeans phoned MCL contacts in their own countries on Sunday to report they had crashed after their car was repeatedly rammed and forced off the road by another vehicle.
But the Interior Ministry report said four government investigators with 39 years of experience “concluded categorically” that the rented Hyundai Accent was traveling too fast when it hit a stretch of dirt road, slid sideways and smashed into a tree.
Carromero’s “lack of attention to his control of the car, the excess of speed and the erroneous decision to slam on the brakes on a slippery surface were the causes of this tragic accident that took the lives of two human beings,” the report said.
Payá’s family said it will not accept the government’s report, read on a Havana television news program at 1 p.m., until it can speak personally with the Europeans and hear their version of the crash.
“Nothing is clear for us. There’s a lot of things up in the air, and until we speak with the two foreigners we will not consider anything as definitive,” his son, Reynaldo Isaías, 20, told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from Cuba.
Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz said the official version of the crash is not convincing. “We will not know all the truth until the survivors can offer their own testimonies, in their own countries and without the pressure of the Cuban government,” he said.
The crash took place on a one-mile stretch of road, marked with a signal showing men at work, which was under repair and had been stripped of its asphalt surface, according to the report.
Capt. Jorge Fonseca Mendoza, a traffic accident investigator, concluded that Carromero slammed on the brakes 260 feet after his car went on the dirt and then slid for another 200 feet, “which confirms the extreme speed,” the report noted.
Carromero told police he did not recall seeing a sign warning of the construction ahead and did not know how fast he was moving when he left the asphalt, according to the report. When he hit the dirt, he “tried to slow down by slamming on the brakes and began to slide sideways until he hit the tree.”
Modig told investigators that he was snoozing when he felt the sudden brake and the sideways slide, “then lost consciousness,” the report added. It made no mention of any claims of another vehicle ramming them and running them off the road.
The car spun and its left side smashed into a tree on the right side of the road, with its nose pointing into a watery ditch and its trunk toward the road, according to the ministry report. Photos of the car made public Wednesday showed the main impact was on the left read door.
Payá was sitting on the left rear seat and Cepero on the right rear seat, and neither of them had buckled their seat belts, the Interior Ministry said. Modig was on the right front seat.
Payá died instantly from head trauma while Cepero died in Bayamo’s Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Hospital from an “acute respiratory insufficiency” brought on by a blood clot caused by a bone break in his left leg.
Three passersby who claimed to have witnessed the crash were quoted in the Interior Ministry report as telling police that they saw the vehicle speeding as it hit the stretch of dirt road.
“The car passed me at a high speed. For sure it was going more than 60 miles per hour. It passed a tractor that was going in the same direction, and then I saw a tremendous cloud of dirt,” José Antonio Duque de Estrada, an employee of the National Institute for Hydraulic Resources, was quoted as saying.
Tractor driver Lázaro Miguel Parra Arjona was quoted as saying that the car passed him “at a high speed. Then I saw the big cloud of dirt and when the cloud dissipated I saw the car impacted on the tree.”
Carromero and Modig, both 27, reportedly went to Cuba to deliver assistance to dissidents. Carromero is a youth leader of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, and Modig is president of the Youth League of Sweden’s Christian Democratic Party, part of the country’s ruling alliance.
Payá’s widow, Ofelia Acevedo, said he tried to take advantage of the European’s trip to eastern Cuba to visit dissidents there.
The Interior Ministry report said the group left Havana at 6 a.m. Sunday and crashed nearly 500 miles away and eight hours later after three stops — an average of more than 60 miles per hour on Cuba’s notoriously bad roads.