Spaniard is sentenced to four years for car crash that killed Cuban dissident Payá

The Spaniard found guilty of vehicular manslaughter when the car he was driving went out of control, killing well-known Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and a colleague, was sentenced Monday by a Cuban court to four years in prison, according to the pro-government website Cubadebate.

Payá, 60, a Catholic layman who headed the Christian Liberation Movement and was one of Cuba’s most respected dissidents, and fellow activist Harold Cepero died July 22 after a rental car driven by Angel Carromero Barrios went out of control along an unpaved stretch of road and struck a tree about 14 miles outside Bayamo in eastern Cuba.

After considering the evidence and the seriousness of the accident, “which produced the lamentable death of two people as a result of the imprudent conduct of Carromero Barrios,” the Provincial Tribunal of Granma found the Spaniard guilty and imposed the sentence, according to Cubadebate. The Cubadebate article also was published verbatim in Granma, the official website and newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Prosecutors had asked for a seven-year sentence.

Either Carromero or prosecutors may appeal the court’s decision.

The consul general from the Spanish Embassy attended the court proceedings in Bayamo, which is about 460 miles east of Havana. Under the terms of a 1998 agreement between Cuba and Spain, Carromero could be sent to Spain to serve out his sentence. Cuba’s penal code also allows the expulsion of a foreigner convicted of a crime.

During the trial Carromero — president of Nuevas Generaciones, the youth wing of Spain’s ruling Popular Party — denied that he had been speeding. Prosecutors also based their conviction on Carromero’s failure to heed signs warning of road work ahead, but Carromero’s lawyers said the road was poorly marked.

Jens Aron Modig, president of the Swedish Christian Democrat Youth League, a wing of Sweden’s ruling alliance, was also riding in the car but said he was asleep and didn’t know the circumstances of the crash. He received minor injuries and has since returned to Sweden.

The two Europeans were in Cuba to support the Cuban dissident movement and deliver about $5,000. They were both riding in the front of the car. The two dissidents were sitting in the back, which bore the brunt of the impact, and were not wearing seat belts.

Payá’s family has always questioned the government’s version of events and has asked for an independent investigation. Family members claim that the crash wasn’t an accident and suspect the car was forced off the road.

Members of Payá’s movement also said they were suspicious because three weeks prior to the fatal crash Payá’s car had been wrecked and flipped after another vehicle rammed it.

In a recording on the Christian Liberation Movement’s website Monday, Rosa María Payá, the dissident’s daughter, said the judicial process was “illegitimate” and “therefore we consider Angel to be totally innocent.’’

Payá was best known for his role in organizing the Varela Project, a signature-gathering campaign he began in 1998 in support of a referendum on laws to guarantee freedom of speech and other civil rights. By the time the campaign ended, there were more than 25,000 names on the petition, but Cuban authorities ignored the request for a referendum.

Payá won the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2002 and had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.

At the time of his death, Payá was eulogized by leaders around the world and a Mass in his honor was held at Ermita de la Caridad, the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Miami.