A Spanish politician and member of the youth branch of its governing party faces possible charges of manslaughter for the deaths of two Cuban dissidents, including the well-known opposition leader Oswaldo Payá. Spain is now trying to contain a potential diplomatic crisis with Cuba.
Spaniard Angel Carromero was driving the rental car that hit a tree, killing Mr. Payá and Harold Cepero on July 22. According to Mr. Carromero’s videotaped statement released on Monday, he lost control on a segment of the highway under repair in the province of Granma. A Cuban investigation found he was speeding and did not heed warning signs.
Jens Aron Modig of Sweden, affiliated to the conservative Christian Democratic Party, was riding in the passenger seat when the crash occurred. He has since been allowed to return home. Both men denied a version of events from dissidents and family members of Payá that claimed Cuban security services forced their car off the road.
Carromero, a leader in the youth movement of the ruling Partido Popular in Spain, is being held in Havana while involuntary homicide charges for the two deaths are formalized, according to Granma, the Communist Party newspaper. Spanish diplomats have visited him and said he is in good condition.
“I ask the international community to please concentrate on getting me out of here and to not use the traffic accident that could have happened to any other person for political ends,” Carromero said in a video statement released by Cuban authorities.
Under Cuban law, the Spaniard could face up to 10 years in prison, although similar cases usually aren’t given the maximum sentence. Cuban law prevents foreigners from leaving the island during "lengthy" legal proceedings, and the Spanish foreign ministry regularly warns citizens traveling to Cuba to avoid driving on the island for this reason.
But the case of Carromero has become politically charged. Payá won the European Union’s Sakharov Prize in 2002 for his defense of human rights in leading the Varela Project, a campaign advocating for democratic reform in Cuba. Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the PP have strongly criticized Cuba’s communist rule.
The survivors of the crash entered Cuba on tourist visas, and only later admitted they were meeting dissidents to contribute some 4,000 euros ($4,900) to their cause and help organize their movement. During a press conference on Monday, Modig acknowledged this was not his first trip to Cuba to deliver money to dissidents.
Engaging in political activity without permission is illegal in Cuba. The communist country, dominated by the Castro brothers for more than 60 years, bans all opposition parties on the island and regularly labels critics of their government as subversives. Now the Spanish government fears Cuba could use Carromero’s release for their own political gain: Although Carromero hasn’t been charged for his political activity on the isalnd, Granma highlighted his ties to Spain's governing party and the illegal funding of Cuban dissidents.
Spain fears this could be a drawn out process. “They will make us suffer some time and then release him,” an unnamed official at the foreign ministry told Spanish daily El País on Tuesday.
Once prosecutors formalize the accusation, Cuba’s judiciary will handle the case, but any release will be delayed until a final ruling is issued. Only then will Cuba be able to issue a pardon, deportation, or expulsion order to repatriate Carromero.