Cuba: blogger detained as trial starts in dissident’s death

Angel Francisco Carromero Barrio, the leader of the New Generations youth movement of Spain’s right-wing Popular Party (PP), was tried on Oct. 5 in Bayamo in the eastern Cuban province of Granma on charges of causing a car accident in which Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero died. Carromero was driving with the two Cubans and Jens Aron Modig, chair of the youth wing of Sweden’s center-right Christian Democratic Party, on July 22 when they entered an area where the road was being repaired and Carromero lost control of the rented car. Prosecutors said he was speeding and called for a seven-year prison sentence. It isn’t clear when the five-judge panel will announce its verdict.

Payá, who headed the Christian Liberation Movement, was a prominent opponent of the Cuban government. His wife, Ofelia Acevedo, said she didn’t believe Payá’s death was accidental, and some dissidents charged that the car was run off the road. During the trial Carromero agreed with government investigators that he had “regrettably” lost control of the car. He expressed his “profound feeling of pain for the unfortunate accident” but denied that he’d been speeding, saying he was traveling at 80-90 km an hour when he came to the roadwork area. According to Spanish newspapers, Carromero was about to have his license revoked in Spain after receiving 45 traffic fines since March 2010, several of them for speeding.

The trial was public, but the courtroom was small and could only hold about 30 people. Rosa María, Oswaldo José and Reynaldo Isaías Payá, the dissident’s children, were unable to attend; an official said this was because they hadn’t notified the authorities in advance that they were coming. (El Mundo, Spain, Oct. 5 from correspondent and unidentified wire services; NPR, Aug. 20)

On Oct. 4, the day before the trial, Yoani Sánchez, who writes the well-known dissident blog Generation Y, was detained in Bayamo along with her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, and other dissidents. The pro-government blogger Yohandry Fontana announced that Sánchez had been detained because she was planning to create “a provocation and media show that would prejudice the proper development of the trial.” Sánchez was released about 30 hours later, too late to cover the trial. (La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 5, from Reuters, AFP; Los Angeles Times, Oct. 5, from correspondents)

Payá was the organizer of the Varela Project, which in May 2002 delivered a petition with 11,020 signatures from registered Cuban voters to the National Assembly calling for a referendum on freedom of expression and association; amnesty for political prisoners who had not taken part in violent acts; free enterprise; electoral reform; and elections within one year. The Cuban government never acted on the petition, while some rightwing Cuban American groups opposed it because it “implicitly accepted” the existing Cuban Constitution. In 2004 Payá opposed a plan announced by then-US president George W. Bush supposedly to bring about a “transition” to a “free and democratic” Cuba. Payá said the plan would “complicate” matters for the internal opposition; its authors “looked into their own needs, rather than those of Cuba and the peaceful opposition movement.” (See Updates #641, 745).

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct 7.

See our last post on Cuba.