Eight senators demand investigation of Payá’s death
THE CAR crash that killed dissident Oswaldo Payá and the youth activist Harold Cepero in eastern Cuba last July?was on a rural road. As with any wreck in which passengers die or are knocked unconscious, there was some confusion. In the front of the rental car, on the passenger side, sat Jens Aron Modig of Sweden, president of the youth league of Sweden’s Christian Democratic Party. He has said he was asleep at the moment of impact. The driver, Ángel Carromero, a leader of the youth wing of Spain’s ruling party, has told us the car was hit from behind by a vehicle bearing Cuban government license plates. They both survived; Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero, in the back seat, did not. Mr. Carromero said that after the crash he was imprisoned and subjected to intimidation and threats by Cuban authorities, who attempted to cover up their role in the deaths. Cuba convicted Mr. Carromero of vehicular homicide, transferred him to Spain and declared the case closed.
But it must not be closed. Mr. Carromero and Mr. Modig carried cell phones. Text messages were sent to friends and relatives abroad immediately after the wreck. These messages cannot be manipulated or suppressed. Although not the whole story, they must be taken seriously as important contemporaneous evidence. The text messages are one reason why the questions about Mr. Payá’s death will not go away.
It is not known precisely what happened on the road, but the messages offer clues. One was sent from Mr. Modig’s phone to a recipient in Sweden, according to screenshots provided to us. It says: “We’ve crashed. Traveling in an ambulance now. I do not have my passport. Not in grave danger.” A subsequent message reports that Mr. Modig and Mr. Carromero are in a hospital in the town of Bayamo “and OK.”
Then Mr. Modig adds: “Ángel said that someone had tried to run us off the highway.”
Who? And why? If the wreck was — as Cuba has claimed — an accident caused by reckless driving, why would one of the survivors have said they were run off the road? These and other suspicions about the death of Mr. Payá need to be addressed. Mr. Payá’s family, including his daughter Rosa Maria, have demanded an international and independent probe.
On Monday, eight U.S. senators from both parties asked for such an investigation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States. The signers are Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) They say Mr. Carromero’s account has raised “deeply troubling questions that Payá’s car was deliberately targeted by Cuban government officials well known for their harassment of Payá.” Only a serious investigation will put this matter to rest. It seems like the very minimum necessary for a man who championed the cause of freedom in Cuba.