Spaniard close to vehicular homicide charge in Cuban dissident’s death

The Swedish man who survived the crash that claimed the lives of Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero has returned home. Meanwhile, his Spanish colleague remained behind to face a possible homicide charge.

07/31/2012 5:00 AM

07/31/2012 9:12 PM

A Spanish politician has been declared officially under investigation for vehicular homicide in the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, the newspaper Granma reported Tuesday. A Swedish man injured in the crash was allowed to leave the island and returned home.

The two announcements came as Spain’s conservative government prepared for a diplomatic crisis with Cuba and eventually a possible swap for the jailed Spaniard, according to the El País newspaper in Madrid.

Granma reported that Angel Carromero of Spain was being held in “provisional detention” while under investigation for “homicide while driving a vehicle” — one step short of a formal accusation, according to Cuban lawyers.

Carromero was driving when his rental car crashed July 22 in eastern Cuba, killing Payá and fellow dissident Harold Cepero. The driver and another passenger, Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig, suffered minor injuries.

Both survivors have denied claims by Payá’s widow and children that the two men phoned contacts in Europe after the crash to report their car had been repeatedly rammed by another vehicle and run off the road.

Carromero, 27, a youth leader of the ruling Popular Party, could face one to 10 years in prison if convicted of vehicular homicide. He is being held in a Havana police investigations center popularly known by its address as “Cien y Aldabó.”

In a video shown at a government presentation in Havana on Monday, Carromero said his car lost traction when it hit a dirt section of road under repair and slammed into a tree. A government report Friday said he was speeding and failed to heed signs warning of the repairs ahead.

Modig’s Youth League of the Swedish Christian Democratic Party announced he arrived in Stockholm Tuesday after more than a week in detention by Cuban immigration authorities and that he will hold a news conference Friday.

Youth League Secretary General Kalle Bäck earlier told El Nuevo Herald that after resting and spending time with his family Modig also would speak with any journalists interested in the Payá case. Modig is president of the Youth League.

Modig tweeted Tuesday that he was in Europe but gave no further details. “European soil under my feet. So nice!” he wrote.

The El País newspaper, meanwhile, reported that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government was “preparing for a long diplomatic crisis with Cuba” in which Carromero could become “an item to swap for something not yet known.”

Foreign Ministry optimists in Madrid predict the Cuban government could pardon or expel Carromero in weeks, while pessimists say it could be months, according to the report. He also may be allowed to serve any sentence in Spain, it added.

Spanish diplomats in Havana have cautioned that a trial for Carromero could be up to six months away, according to news dispatches. Alan P. Gross, a U.S. subcontractor arrested in Havana on Dec. 3, 2009, was put on trial in March 2011. He was sentenced to 15 years for endangering the island’s national security by delivering satellite telephones to Cuban Jews.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez reminded his Madrid counterpart, José Manuel García-Margallo, in a chat last week that Carromero is an official of the ruling Popular Party and broke Cuban laws by entering as a tourist even though he planned to meet with dissidents.

The Popular Party was strongly critical of Cuba’s communist system under former Primer Minister José Maria Aznar, but it has moderated its policies under Rajoy.

Granma’s unusually long, 1,540-word report Tuesday said Modig was allowed to leave Cuba “in spite of the illegal activities he carried out” after he and Carromero arrived July 19 to deliver illegal cash assistance to dissidents.

Cuba has outlawed U.S. government assistance to dissidents, saying it is designed to topple the communist system. The conservative Christian Democratic and Popular Parties provide assistance to pro-democracy groups around the world.

The Granma report did not mention that Payá won the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize in 2002 or that his relatives in Havana were the most outspoken in alleging that another car, presumably driven by State Security agents, caused the fatal crash.

Instead, it blamed the allegations on Miami and issued a melodramatic defense of the Cuban government.

“Only the most vociferous of the annexationist Mafia in Miami accused Cuba of having carried out a political assassination,” it said, adding that the official report Friday on the cause of the crash “shut the door to the infamous insinuation.”

“The immaculate story of a Revolution that triumphed and has been defended for half a century without a single extrajudicial execution, without one disappeared, one torture, one kidnapped, just one terrorist act, is well known,” it added.

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