Unanswered Questions about Cuban Dissident’s Activities and Death

Libertad y noviolencia para Cuba

Photo by dumplife (Mihai Romanciuc) via Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/62585343@N00/429146557/

Three weeks after the death of Cuban activist Osvaldo Payá, the questions that remain unanswered are not so much about the circumstances of the car accident that killed him – it appears to have been a tragic accident – but rather about the activities in which he and his European companions were engaged.  His family continues to claim that the vehicle was rammed off the road by state security agents.  According to Cuban authorities, the rental car veered off an unpaved stretch of road, and the driver, Angel Carromero, an activist from Spain’s conservative Partido Popular, has been charged with vehicular manslaughter.  At a Havana press conference, both Carromero and the other survivor, Jens Aron Modig of Sweden, confirmed the official version of the incident and asked the international community not to use the tragedy for political ends.  Since returning to Sweden, Modig, who admitted entering Cuba to deliver funds to Payá’s organization, has not disavowed the official account.  Nonetheless, the deluge of media coverage quick to frame the accident as a sinister government plot has not been corrected.

Though perhaps the most effective dissident to challenge the Cuban government, Payá was among the most tolerated.  His international celebrity – he won the EU Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002 – his opposition to the U.S. embargo and Helms-Burton regime-change programs, and his commitment to peaceful change on the island made him an unlikely target for a political assassination.

The project that put Payá on the road to Santiago has many of the markings of the secret operations carried out under “democracy promotion” programs run by the U.S. State Department and USAID.  These programs are shrouded in such secrecy that not even the Congressional oversight committees are briefed on them, so ascertaining the truth of who was directing the Carromero-Modig mission and the information campaign accusing the Cuban government of murder after the accident is practically impossible.  But strong circumstantial evidence has emerged.  In video testimony, Modig revealed that he met in Tbilisi with two major USAID grantees involved in such operations – the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) – just before traveling to Cuba.  It is unclear whether Payá – known for eschewing foreign financial aid – was aware that Carromero and Modig’s primary objective on the trip was to hand out money to antigovernment activists.  It is conceivable that he chose not to know the details.  Regardless, his death represents a significant blow to Cuban activists seeking peaceful, democratic change without heavy foreign direction. 

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