Two European politicians who survived the crash in which Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá died have denied claims they were driven off the road by another vehicle, appearing in person and in a video before journalists Monday in Havana.
The government-arranged presentation did nothing to assuage Payás relatives, who are demanding to speak in person with the Europeans, or human rights activists who say they will not trust anything the survivors say until they are safely out of Cuba.
The version told by the Europeans hewed to the governments description of the car crash July 22 near the eastern city of Bayamo that killed Payá, 60, and Harold Cepero, 31, a member of his Christian Liberation Movement.
Angel Carromero of Spain, who was driving, and passenger Jens Aron Modig of Sweden, both 27, suffered minor injuries. Carromero is in police custody while Modig is being held by immigration officials. Neither had been seen in public until Monday.
In a video apparently recorded as Carromero spoke with authorities investigating the crash, the Spaniard declared that his rented Hyundai Accent was not rammed by another vehicle but tried to sidestep personal responsibility for the crash.
No other vehicle hit us from behind. Simply, I was driving, saw a pothole and took the precaution of any driver, which is to brake lightly. The car lost control, he said.
The governments version is that Carromero missed a road sign warning of repairs ahead, was speeding when he hit a dirt section and then slammed on the brake too hard, losing control of the car on the gravel and crashing into a tree.
Carromero, a leader of the youth wing of Spains ruling Popular Party, also makes as plea on the video to leave Cuba, where he could face one to 10 years in prison if convicted of causing the fatal accident.
As for the news reports that I have been allowed to read, I ask the international community to please focus on getting me out of here, and not on using a traffic accident, which can happen to anyone, for political ends, the Spaniard says.
Appearing in person before foreign journalists in Havana, Modig said he was snoozing when the car crashed and added, I have no recollection that any other car was involved in the accident, according to the journalists reports.
Modig also referred to his memory when asked about claims by Payás relatives that he had sent text messages from his cellular phone to contacts in Sweden, before or after the crash, reporting his car had been rammed by another vehicle.
I dont remember. I was simply informing that I was well after the accident, declared Modig, president of Youth League of Swedens Christian Democratic Party. I sent text messages, I dont know to how many people, after the accident.
Asked if he will change his version of the crash once he leaves Cuba, the Swede replied, In this case my apologies are honest. All the Cubans that I have met here have been kind, have treated me well.
Payás widow, Ofelia Acevedo, told El Nuevo Herald on Monday that she would continue to push to meet with the Europeans in person, to hear their version of the crash, because the Cuban government cannot be trusted to tell the truth about her husbands death.
The Payá family does not accept the word of a government that repeatedly threatened to kill him, she said, adding that just last month the couple was involved in a suspicious traffic accident in Havana that almost killed them.
Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said the Modig and Carromero statements fell short of providing a complete vision of what happened.
We reiterate our position that as long as the two remain in Cuba, their statements would be subject to the inevitable pressures of the government, said Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Modig also provided a possible explanation of why Cuban authorities have detained him since the crash, saying that he understood that his and Carromeros activities supporting dissidents in Cuba were illegal.
The Swede said his goals during the visit were to hand some cash to Payá, meet with members of his Christian Liberation Movement in order to exchange experiences and to facilitate any travels around the island that Payá needed to undertake.
Modig said he brought 4,000 Euros about $5,200 for dissidents but did not clarify whether all the cash was for Payá. He also delivered money and equipment to dissidents during his first trip to Cuba in 2009, he added.
Payá was known to reject U.S. aid for pro-democracy programs in Cuba, but was close to Christian Democratic parties abroad. Cuba has outlawed cooperating with the U.S. programs, branding them as thinly veiled attempts to topple the communist system.
The Europeans planned to contact miniscule groups of the internal counterrevolution in Santiago de Cuba province to provide them with financing, Gustavo Machín, head of the governments International Press Center in Havana, told the EFE news agency.
I understand that these activities are not legal in Cuba and want to apologize for having come to this country to undertake illegal activities, Modig was quoted as saying.
This report was supplemented with news agency reports from Havana.