In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: U.S. should press harder on Payá’s death

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power deserves credit for asking Cuba’s foreign minister to launch a credible investigation into the suspicious death of leading Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, but she should have gone a step further.

Early last week, Power tweeted that she had just raised with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez the need for a serious investigation into the mysterious 2012 car accident in which Payá lost his life.

The prominent Cuban dissident, founder of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, was known worldwide for having organized a petition that gathered more than 25,000 signatures on the island asking for a referendum on whether the Cuban government should allow freedom of speech, and a multi-party democracy.

Payá, whom I had the honor of interviewing many times, was Cuba’s Mahatma Gandhi. He never raised his voice, and consistently preached a message of non-violence and national reconciliation. Many of us saw him as Cuba’s best hope for a post-Castro era.

His death took place on July 22, 2012, after the car in which he was traveling crashed against a tree in Cuba’s countryside.

Payá, 60, and fellow Cuban Harold Cepero, 32, both of whom were in the back seat, were pronounced dead hours later. The car’s driver, Spanish Popular Party politician Angel Carromero, 27, and Swedish political activist Jens Aron Modig, who was seated next to him, survived the wreck.

Carromero was arrested on charges of “vehicular homicide,’’ spent five months in a Cuban prison, and was released on condition of serving the remainder of his sentence in Spain.

After the crash, Payá’s daughter Rosa María Payá told reporters that a Cuban government car had been following the group and repeatedly slammed into Payá’s car from behind, driving it off the road and into a tree. She said the two European visitors had sent text messages to friends in Europe from the site of the accident, telling them that their car was being followed.

But her story could not be backed up by hard evidence at the time. The two Europeans were kept at a Cuban prison, away from reporters, and Carromero had signed a Cuban government affidavit backing the government’s version of events.

Worse, Carromero had a history of bad driving: he had accumulated 45 traffic tickets in Spain over the 15 months before his trip to Cuba. And Modig told reporters that he had been asleep when the accident occurred.

But the Payá family’s story began looking much more credible a few months later when, back in Spain, Carromero told The Washington Post on March 5 that he had signed the Cuban affidavit under duress, and that Cuban secret police cars — with their blue license plates that characterize them — “were following us from the beginning.”

Carromero said that the last time he had looked back in the mirror before losing consciousness, “I realized that the car had gotten too close — and suddenly I felt a thunderous impact from behind.”

In a subsequent interview with the Spanish daily El Mundo last week, Carromero said that Payá and Cepero had survived the crash and were taken to a hospital, where “Cuba’s secret services killed him.”

Adding to the latest revelations, El Mundo published pictures of the original text messages sent by the two Europeans from the site of the accident. Payá’s daughter Rosa María posted the pictures at her father’s website, OswaldoPayá.org.

In a telephone interview, Rosa María Payá told me that her family has requested an international investigation by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial killings, and the Organization of American States’ Human Rights Commission. It is also pursuing the case in Spanish courts, since Payá also held Spanish citizenship.

Asked about Power’s request to the Cuban foreign minister, Rosa María said it’s a “good first step, but the Obama administration should take the petition to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and to the U.N. Special Rapporteur of extrajudicial killings. As far as I know, they have not done that yet.”

My opinion: I agree — Power should be commended for raising this issue. But instead of requesting a credible investigation to the Cuban foreign minister — we all know how that will end — she should take it to the U.N., the Organization of American States and other international institutions. There are now too many pieces of evidence, including the original text messages and two eyewitnesses, to close the book on the highly suspicious death of one of Latin America’s biggest civil rights heroes.

Read more Andres Oppenheimer stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: Obama should go to summit - and challenge Cuba

    President Barack Obama’s biggest upcoming diplomatic challenge in Latin America will be whether to attend the 34-country Summit of the Americas alongside Cuban leader Raúl Castro, who has been invited by the host country — Panama — over U.S. objections. I think Obama should go, and do something really bold there.

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: Bolivia’s election result is hardly in question

    Bolivia’s populist president, Evo Morales, has said he wants to win a third term in office with a whopping 74 percent of the vote in the Oct. 12 elections, and, judging from what his leading contender told me in an interview, it wouldn’t be surprising if Morales gets his wish.

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: Obama’s plan to counter Venezuela’s oil clout

    For years, U.S. officials have been in a quandary about how to counter Venezuela’s political influence in Central American and the Caribbean through its subsidized oil exports. Now, the Obama administration is quietly launching a plan that it hopes will help counter its importance.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category