MIAMI — The daughter of a Cuban dissident who led one of the most significant campaigns for political change on the island said Friday there is enough evidence to warrant an international investigation into her father's death.
Rosa Maria Paya said witness accounts, text messages and statements made after a July car crash involving her father raise questions about the Cuban government's official account. The crash killed Oswaldo Paya and youth activist Harold Cepero.
The two dissidents and another passenger were in a car driven by Spaniard Angel Carromero in Bayamo, Cuba, when he lost control and struck a tree, according to government authorities. Carromero was convicted in Cuba of vehicular homicide and returned to Spain to serve out a four-year sentence.
In an interview published last month in The Washington Post, Carromero said he was being followed by a car before the crash. Paya and Cepero told him the car must be from "la Comunista" because it had blue licenses plates like those used by the government. Carromero said the last time he looked in his rearview mirror he realized the car behind them had gotten too close "and suddenly I felt a thunderous impact from behind."
Carromero said he was threatened by government officials when he said he'd been struck from behind. An officer provided him with a different version of events and said if he went along with it, nothing would happen to him, Carromero said. He said he was heavily drugged at the time.
"They gave me another statement to sign - one that in no way resembled the truth," Carromero said.
Speaking at the University of Miami on Friday, Paya's daughter said Carromero's statement confirmed the evidence she had already gathered, which included text messages and statements from people at the hospital after the crash. Those accounts included mentions of another vehicle at the scene of the crash, though she did not go into detail.
"I'm asking for help so that this investigation is realized," Rosa Maria Paya said. "I want to know the truth."
Eight U.S. senators have written a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States last month calling for an investigation.
Oswaldo Paya was the lead organizer of the Varela Project, a signature-gathering drive asking authorities for a referendum on guaranteeing rights such as freedom of speech and assembly in Cuba. The initiative is regarded as the largest nonviolent campaign to change the system Fidel Castro established.
Rosa Maria Paya is one of several prominent Cuban dissidents recently allowed to leave the island after Cuba eliminated the exit permit that had been required of islanders for five decades. Cuban authorities can still deny travel in cases of "national security" and not all dissidents have been allowed to leave.
Paya's calls for an international investigation are unlikely to be received by the Cuban government.
Arturo Lopez-Levy, a lecturer at the University of Denver who once worked for the Cuban government, said he could not recall any case in which an international commission had gone to Cuba to investigate a situation similar to the one Paya's daughter is requesting.
He said Oswaldo Paya probably was followed, as the Cuban security apparatus has long been known to do with opposition leaders. He doubted there was a purposeful attempt to kill Paya.
"It would be the type of thing that would bring a lot of condemnation against the Cuban government," Lopez-Levy said. "And they didn't need it because the movement of Mr. Paya was in decline."
Paya said she is not counting on Cuban government's cooperation. She said her family has been threatened and harassed as they've pushed for answers in her father's death.
"I fear for the life of my family," she said.
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