Friday, August 10, 2012

Modig's lapses, and ours

Swedish Christian Democratic activist Aron Modig has now spoken about his experience in Cuba – the crash that killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero and left him and driver Angel Carromero of Spain’s Partido Popular injured, his memory, the questioning he faced afterward – and Modig is telling the same story to Swedish print and radio reporters that he told on camera in a press conference in Cuba. 

In sum: Modig was snoozing when the crash took place, he awoke when the car lost control, lost consciousness upon impact, and awoke again in an ambulance en route to the hospital.  He was questioned in Bayamo about the accident and had dinner with the Swedish ambassador there, and he was questioned in Havana about his political activities while being held in a windowless room in a house.  He did not enjoy the process. 

When asked for more details about the crash, he told Swedish reporters he preferred to stick with his memory and not to speculate.  (See AFP Spanish, AP English, and you can Google-translate this article from Stockholm’s Dagens Nyheter; if you speak Swedish you can listen to this radio interview.)

From various accounts, Modig seems not to have communicated with the Paya family before leaving Havana to give information or to express condolence.  Paya’s organization chided Modig today for failing again to express condolences to Paya’s family.

Carromero, meanwhile, is reported by Madrid’s ABC newspaper to have phoned a friend immediately after the accident to say, “We have just had an accident.  Things could get bad, and you need to help me out.”  ABC’s reporter got almost no information from anyone at the Partido Popular; all personnel are staying quiet so as to avoid saying anything that could hurt his case.  Some friends did say Carromero is “prudence personified” at the wheel.  For their part, Spanish traffic authorities have now revoked his drivers license, having stated their intention to do so last May based on his many speeding and parking violations.

How does all this figure into the speculative debate over what really happened July 22 on the highway outside Bayamo? 

It certainly does not support the theory that a Cuban government car caused the accident directly or indirectly by harassing Paya’s car on the highway.  This theory, advanced by Paya’s family, might have been sustained by statements by Modig made from Swedish soil.  But he continues to say he was asleep, which doesn’t fit a less-than-relaxing scenario where the car was being rammed by another, or harassed such that (as Paya’s daughter suggests) Carromero accelerated to escape the harassment. 

Carromero himself has said he was driving at 50 miles per hour the last time he checked, came upon a gravel-covered section of the road, saw a pothole, braked, and lost control.  It “could have happened to any other person,” he said in a statement recorded in Havana.  The Cuban legal case against him will apparently rest on the allegation that he failed to heed signs to slow down in an area under repair.

If Modig is sticking with his terse statement to leave the door open for Carromero to say what he wishes at trial, then he is also leaving Carromero completely on his own. 

Of course, it’s also possible that the Swede and the Spaniard are telling the truth.

Driving in Cuba is not easy.  Eight hours into this grueling Havana-to-Santiago trip, the group had passed the point near Sancti Spiritus where a wide, open highway turns into a two-lane road.  On the former it’s easy to average 70 miles per hour; on the latter you’re lucky to average 40 as you pass through towns and slow down for trucks, bicycles,  horses, parked cars, pedestrians, and vendors leaning into the highway hawking home-made cheese and other wares.  It’s hard for any driver – and this driver was new to Cuba, 27 years old, and judged to be unfit to drive in his own country. 

I’m all for being skeptical of government statements, in this case Cuba’s, and I don’t for a moment discount the rough treatment that dissidents receive.  And certainly the statements of Carromero and Modig in Cuba may have been be colored by their desires to escape criminal charges and go home.

But the many efforts to accuse Havana of assassinating Paya, or in most cases to insinuate that it did so, seem hasty and very political, even as those who make the accusations complain that Havana is making its own political points.  No one else is being blunt, so I will: The idea here seems to be to avoid the quite plausible conclusion that an amateurish political operation intended to help Cuban dissidents ended up getting two of them killed.  

Worse still is the charge that Carromero is a “hostage” in the absence of evidence that the Cuban case against him is a sham.  The idea seems to be that Cuban laws, even traffic laws, are illegitimate and should not apply to foreigners engaged in political work.  Even Senator Rubio has recognized Cuban “civil law” and the obligation of foreigners to respect it. 

The burden on the Cuban state is to prove its case.  The burden on us, it seems to me, is to let that process take its course.  The alternative is to send a message to the Cuban people that when two Cuban citizens die and a foreigner is involved, the only thing that matters is to get the foreigner out of Cuba and back to the comforts of home. 

Other items from the Spanish media:

·         From El Pais: “Madrid prepares for a long diplomatic crisis with Havana”

·         Luis Gomez of El Pais profiles Carromero, who as part of his effort to climb the ranks of the Partido Popular, “traveled to Cuba to fulfill a mission.”  Gomez could not verify if this was Carromero’s first trip to Cuba.  Carromero’s political mentor, Pablo Casado, traveled to Cuba in 2007 and later wrote of a “clandestine meeting” with Oswaldo Paya.  “My mission consisted of gaining access to the most surveilled houses in Cuba without being detained or jailed,” he wrote.

·         Mauricio Vicent, former Havana correspondent for El Pais, puts Carromero’s trip in the context of a long line of other Spanish political activists who have traveled to Cuba and been turned around at the airport, “thus obtaining the sought-after headline,” or who manage “to move about the island believing themselves to be a kind of James Bond” only to meet eventual deportation.

[Photo from the website of Dagens Nyheter.]


Anonymous said...

Why is it necessary to use foreigners as couriers to carry instructions and money from command centers abroad to opposition groups within the island?

first of all because all telephone and internet communications to and from the island are under the control of the government and are used to monitor all opposition activities.

Second of all because all opposition groups abroad and in the island are infiltrated by government informers and CubanAmericans who are active in opposition affairs abroad or who are detected contacting opposition leaders within the island are not allowed to travel to the island any more.

Not being able to use communications to transmit ideas or money and being unable to use cubans who live abroad as couriers, the only course of action left for the opposition is to use foreigners who are not identified as opposition sympathisers by Cuban government agents and are allowed to enter the island freely and who are not intimidated by the prospect of not being allowed to return to the island because they have no family or friends there.

Among these the most useful are tourists of Spanish speaking countries because they can communicate easily with the Cuban opposition, blend in more easily with the Cuban population and are more difficult to detect and watch.


Anonymous said...

thank you for being blunt. when it comes to cuba it is the default position to ignore real evidence in favor of political expediency. shame on those who continue with the conspiracy theories.

And re the comment above -- if foreigners are used as couriers to opposition groups inside a country, guess what -- that's treason in any country in the world. but for some reason its considered ok in Cuba because of the specious excuse of information control. and you certainly don't have that in any other country either. ridiculous

Anonymous said...

In reply to the last commentary, I would like to say that it was not my intention to morally evaluate a practice that is going on and will continue while the Cuban totalitarian regime remains in place.

I simply wanted to explain why, given the conditions existing in the island, the opposition considered it necessary to use non Cubans as couriers.

In Cuba information control does not exist by itself.

It is part of a repressive system where opponents of the government once they are detected and identified:
1- Lose their jobs.
2- Are not allowed to study in the universities.
3- Can be sent to jail.
4- And may be physically assaulted in the streets by plain clothes police personnel.

Moreover, many political activities that are considered part of your civic responsabilities and are not only allowed but actively encouraged in other countries are considered in Cuba a crime and severely penalized.

Among these are criticizing the government verbally or in writing, founding a political party or holding a meeting with friends to discuss anything that the government considers hostile to its interests.

There is also a very efficient police apparatus beginning with neighborhood block committees which keeps tabs on every neighbor and a very efficient police apparatus to watch all social activities.

The objective of this apparatus is to detect and crush all opposition activity. Preferably doing so by nipping it in the bud, before it has the opportunity to develop and become dangerous to those that run the country.

Has it ever occurred to you that if in Cuba the basic human rights of its citizens were being respected using foreigners as couriers would not be necessary?

Have you ever considered that these practices are the necessary result of the repressive policies the Cuban government applies against its citizens and that the opposition simply uses them to evade these reppressive controls.

Have you ever stopped to think that due to this the Cuban government is in the final analysis morally responsible for causing them?


Anonymous said...

Have you ever thought that, if you are interested in politics, there is nothing inherently criminal against going to another country and informing yourself about the activities of a democratic opposition political group or about advising such a group as to the methods it uses to best achieve its objectives?

Also, why do you consider it a criminal activity for a country's citizen abroad to support with contributions the activities of an opposition group in their home country?

Why is it inmoral for foreign political parties or political non government organizations to contribute funds to any democratic political party that they choose to do so?

What is so criminal to use the means that the Cubans abroad and the foreign political parties or NGO's consider most adequate to transmit the funds in question to their final destination?

Aren't these practices carried out continually everywhere else in the world?

What makes them so objectionable in the Cuban case?

Why should it be treason on the part of a Cuban political opposition group to accept political advise from foreign politicians or funds from their own countrymen in foreign countries or from foreign political parties or NGO's?

The only objection to such activities that could be logically raised is if the group in question receiving counseling or aid is involved in terrorist activities or is advocating the overthrowal by force of the government of its country.

But this is obviously not the situation in this case since Paya's group has been a proponent of non violent resistance to totalitarian rule.

So why are you complaining about two foreign youth leaders going to Cuba to exchange ideas with Paya and to bring him some funds from Cubans living in Europe and from European political parties and NGO's?


Anonymous said...

Please take into consideration that if no aid was received from abroad all opposition activity would cease in Cuba since members of opposition groups are thrown out of work and closely watched and penalized if they are detected participating in illegal private economic activities.

So aid from abroad transmitted through foreign couriers is vital to the opposition's survival in the island.

Under these circumstances your moral indignation seems to me to be not only laughable because it ignores the situation the Cuban opposition faces but also totally hypocritical.

As the Cuban maxim goes, "Whose side are you on anyway, the cowboys or the bandits?"

Why don't you sympathize with the victims instead of with the victimizer?

I would respectfully suggest that you direct your moral sensitivity to protest against the open and flagrant violations of human rights being carried out by the Cuban government instead of against the defensive practices opposition groups resort to in order to carry out their activities against a totalitarian regime and survive in such a hostile environment.


Anonymous said...

boy, and here i thought this was the cuban triange, not 'the singing clearly blog'

basic human rights? housing, food, education, health.

typical to conflate civil rights restrictions while under national security threat from the worlds greatest power with basic human rights. and the ultimate responsibility lies with the criminal 50 year old siege against cuba.

the victims if you really knew cuba are those who have suffered under american aggression, who want change in cuba but more so want the americans to end the siege.
the victimizer if you really knew cuba is washington, not havana. end the siege and then judge. or do you have a remarkable new formula for how a small country should protect itself against the world's most powerful nation that has tried to destroy it for the past half century

and if you think the siege has had no affect on cuban society, then you really don't know the island at all.

we now await your sixteen replies

Anonymous said...

I have had to live under the Cuban regime for many years and as such I experienced its effects first hand.

That is why I empathize with my fellow Cubans residing in the island and would like to help them to have a better future.

You, on the other hand,have never experienced the life of an ordinary Cuban citizen.

If you have visited the island, you went with US dollars and did not experience the limitations and sufferings of the ordinary population.

Read Ben Corbett's " This is Cuba, an Outlaw Culture Survives" so that you can have a more down to life idea of how the average Cuban lives.

Or maybe you would like to repeat his experience and go down to the island and choose to live for a few months like the a Cuban does living with a rationing card and experiencing permanent hunger.

Then when you come out we could debate on a more even plane having gone through the same experiences.

It is easy to be what the French call a "Gauchiste de Luxe" when you have not experienced what life is really like under a totalitarian system.

You should learn to be a little less hypocritical and to learn to really empathize with that working class that you say you admire.

Anonymous said...

Senor Cantaclaro
yo soy cubana. i lived for many years in cuba, left for economic, not political reasons, and have been back many times to my family and friends in altahabana.
how typical of your mentality to immediately assume all sorts of facts about someone you know nothing about. simply because someone has a different opinion you denigrate and diminish. you want to help Cuba, then work to end the american blockade. instead you level personal attacks that simply expose your ignorance. it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool then to open it and remove all doubt. in your case it is your writing that makes you a fool. don't lecture what you know nothing about.

Anonymous said...

As Karl Marx said frequently in "Das Kapital", "De te Fabula Narratur!"

Apply the fable to yourself!

Or if you want a more Anglo Saxon version: "The pot is calling the kettle black!"

You are a perfect example of everything you criticize!

"No se debe salir a la calle en ropa interior a predicar la moral!