Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Paya case in Spanish courts

The widow and daughter of Oswaldo Paya filed a legal action in a Spanish court alleging that Paya’s death was a “murder” and a “crime against humanity.”  They charge that a Cuban government car drove Paya’s car off the road on July 22, 2012 when driver Angel Carromero was taking Paya, fellow dissident Harold Cepero, and Swedish political activist Jens Aron Modig from Havana to Santiago. 

The action, called a querella, is directed against two Cuban military officials.  Paya’s Spanish citizenship enables it to be presented in Spanish court.  They ask the court to take testimony from themselves, Carromero, Modig, four witnesses in Cuba, associates of Paya in Spain, and finally from Spanish and Swedish party activists whom they say received messages from Carromero and Modig after the crash.

It is not clear whether the matter will proceed; this Radio Marti report says that the court has handed the matter to a prosecutor, “who will decide whether or not the querella is to be admitted.”

The querella alleges that the Cuban trial that found Carromero guilty of vehicular manslaughter was a “farce” intended to paint the crash as an accident caused by negligence on Carromero’s part.  The government’s purpose, it charges, was “to do away with the Christian Liberation Movement and also to eliminate the possibility that any dissident movement would receive aid from abroad, which would cause the disappearance of any current or future ideological threat to the dictatorial regime that governs the island.”  (BBC, El Mundo)

Carromero was convicted in criminal court in Bayamo last October.  (The sentencia from this Cuban trial is described here and here; the full document doesn’t seem to be on the web.)  He returned to Spain last December under a Cuban-Spanish agreement that allows convicts to serve out their sentence in their home country.  Carromero remained silent for months.  Finally in March, with Paya’s associates chiding him for remaining silent, he gave statements to the Washington Post editorial page in which he alleged for the first time that a government car had driven him off the road.  He stayed away from Spanish media.

Modig has consistently said that he was asleep and remembers nothing about the crash.

Carromero is now speaking out, accusing the Cuban government of killing Paya and Cepero.  He began with this interview with El Mundo, saying that “I am just one more victim of the Paya case,” which takes some considerable cheek considering that he is alive and two Cubans are dead.  He said that Modig “has declared that he remembers nothing” ever since they were in the hospital together in Bayamo.  He mentions being sedated in the Bayamo hospital, but he does not make reference, as he did according to numerous press accounts last January, to having to recompose his memories because of long-lasting memory-inhibiting drugs allegedly administered to him in Cuba.  He also repeats that when he asked Paya about the car that was behind them, Paya told him it was “de la comunista” and he should ignore it.  (If anyone knows what that means, or has ever heard a Cuban use that phrase, I’m all ears.)

When he spoke later to the Herald, Carromero added that in the Bayamo hospital, he gave a statement to the effect that he was driven off the road, and signed that statement, only to be pressed into changing it by officials who slapped him and told him that he risked a long time in jail if he didn’t change his story. 

In this interview on Spanish television, Carromero says that various cars had followed his car, when one finally drove it off the road when he was going about 60 kilometers per hour.  Carromero said he is “sure” that Paya and Cepero were alive after the accident, although he doesn’t seem to have said in any interview that he saw them alive.
The basis seems to be his statement to El Mundo that a priest and nurses told him that Cepero and Paya were both “admitted” to the hospital in Bayamo. 

In this interview (with audio), Carromero starts by asking listeners “to realize that everything that happened, happened to a young person of 26 years of age.”  He said that he knows Paya was alive because a priest called the hospital from Madrid to say that all four in the car “were in the hospital.”

In an interview with a Spanish radio station, Paya’s brother Carlos claims that Modig’s statement that he remembers nothing is “a lie.”  Asked why Modig would lie, Paya said, “He has his reasons.”  He said he has talked with Modig, and Modig’s memory is “very selective.”  Paya says that Modig sent a text in Swedish after the accident saying, “literally, Angel tells me that a car drove us off the road.”

There’s much more if you care to sift through the statements of Carromero, his friends, and Paya’s family and associates.

Whom to believe?

Like me, you may be recalling the great movie about reasonable doubt, 12 Angry Men, that boiled down to Henry Fonda peppering his fellow jurors with the question, “Isn’t it possible?”

Isn’t it possible that Cuban government operatives drove Carromero off the road, intentionally or because someone who was assigned to follow got too close?  Yes, it is.

It’s also possible that a Swedish Christian Democrats wanted to help Cuban dissidents by sending Modig, who speaks no Spanish; they needed a Spanish speaker, and to their great misfortune they got the jejune Carromero, whose driver’s license was in the process of being revoked and who, at the wheel in a grueling, day-long drive across Cuba, made a mistake that cost two dissidents their lives.

To date the Paya family’s case has not been strong, suffering from piecemeal presentation, Carromero’s months of silence and his weak performance since, and Modig’s assertion that he remembers nothing in a car that was allegedly being followed, harassed, and rammed while he supposedly slept. 

If the querella proceeds in Spanish courts, it may shed light on parts of this story, especially since Carromero has only faced light and sympathetic questioning in his Spanish media interviews.  Apart from the witness testimony and evidence presented, it would be interesting to see whether Cuban evidence and the Cuban verdict come into play, whether Cuba would cooperate in what would essentially be a re-trial of the Bayamo proceeding, whether the Spanish government plays a role or takes a position, and what procedures and standard of proof would be used to reach a judgment. 


·         Spanish law professor Enrique Gimbernat argues that if Spain vacates the Cuban sentence against Carromero, it will harm the Spanish national interest because other countries will no longer honor agreements with Spain whereby Spaniards who commit crimes abroad are permitted to serve out their sentences at home.    Carromero responded by saying that the Spanish government signed a memorandum with Cuba reserving the right to pardon him, requiring only that Spain inform Cuba of that act.

·         In CubaEncuentro, Alejandro Armengol supports additional investigation of the case and cuts the Cuban government no slack.  He goes on to explain the Spanish political context of Carromero’s statements.  Carromero has been championed by and strongly supports Partido Popular leader Esperanza Aguirre, a party rival of the politically troubled Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.  Armengol suggests that Aguirre may have unleashed Carromero at a moment when his statements would cause the most damage to Rajoy.

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