Jackson Diehl
Deputy editorial page editor March 17, 2013

Two weeks ago a brave young leader of Spain’s ruling Popular Party stepped forward to offer a sensational, firsthand account of how one of Cuba’s leading dissidents, Oswaldo Payá, was killed last summer. Ángel Carromero said a car that he was driving in which Payá was a passenger was rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing official Cuban license plates. He said he was then jailed in inhuman conditions, drugged and threatened by Cuban authorities with death if he did not tell a false story about what happened.

Naturally, Spanish journalists quickly approached Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margello, Mr. Carromero’s comrade in the Popular Party, to ask for his reaction. One might have expected an expression of shock at the revelation that the Castro regime might have deliberately killed one of the world’s best-known advocates of peaceful democratic change, a winner of the European Union’s Sakharov Prize, and then abused and framed a prominent Spanish citizen.

Jackson Diehl is deputy editorial page editor of The Post. He is an editorial writer specializing in foreign affairs and writes a biweekly column that appears on Mondays. View Archive

Nope: Garcia-Margello didn’t hesitate to throw the leader of his party’s youth wing under a bus. The foreign ministry, he primly told the reporters, “didn’t have evidence” of Carromero’s account. “The only evidence” it had, he added, was an agreement between the Cuban government and Spain allowing the repatriation of Carromero, which “recognized . . . the legitimacy of the verdict” of a Cuban court that found him guilty of negligent homicide.

In other words, the Spanish foreign minister was saying he thought the Cuban state security service was more credible than a 27-year-old leader of his own party who spoke out, at the risk of his career and his conditional release from prison, because, as he put it in an interview with The Post, “I could not live, being complicit through my silence.”

It’s worth considering why the Spanish government, like the Obama administration and Latin America’s democracies, ignored Carromero’s allegations. If legendary dissident Andrei Sakharov himself had died in a suspicious car accident in the Soviet Union, and a credible Western witness had then offered testimony like Carromero’s, it’s hard to imagine that Ronald Reagan and former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez would have remained silent.

But first let’s examine the supposed lack of evidence. Carromero, Payá, Cuban Harold Cepero and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig were driving down a rural road in eastern Cuba last July 22 when the crash occurred. The two Cubans riding in the back seat died, while Carromero and Modig in the front survived.

Carromero says the car was followed from the moment it left Havana; as anyone familiar with Cuba and its secret police knows, that is routine for dissidents such as Payá. Here’s a question for the Spanish foreign ministry: Is it credible that a vehicle bearing dissidents and two Western politicians would not be followed on a road trip? Right. So where are the occupants of the two cars, one with official plates, described by Carromero?

The Cuban version says Carromero’s car struck a tree. But the photo authorities released shows a sedan clearly smashed from behind. Unless the Spaniard somehow accelerated backward into the tree, the picture belies the official story. Then there are the texts: Payá’s family say they have SMS messages that Carromero and Modig sent to friends in Europe soon after the crash, saying they had been hit from behind and run off the road. And there is Modig himself: The young Swede, who was also detained for a time in Cuba, told Swedish radio last week that he did send the reported texts, and that while he did not remember the accident, “I don’t have any doubts about what is now revealed.”

Finally there is this: The crash marked the second time Payá had been in an accident in two months. In Havana, a car he was driving was also struck by a suspicious vehicle, injuring him slightly. His family says he regularly received telephone calls with death threats.

Perhaps the Spanish foreign minister disrespects Carromero enough to conclude that he is lying in spite of all the indications that he is not. Or perhaps he feels compelled to bow to political considerations: the Spanish government’s cultivation of the Castro regime, its gratitude for the release to Spain of several score Cuban political prisoners, its hopes that four Spaniards in Cuban custody will, like Carromero, be freed. Other Western governments desperately want to believe that Raul Castro is a reformer who is slowly liberalizing Cuba.

All these calculations assume that the possibility that the regime deliberately targeted and killed Payá is ultimately unworthy of international attention; that impunity for such a crime is a regrettable necessity; or that the case says nothing about the Castros’ real intentions. Were they alive, Andrei Sakharov and Oswaldo Payá would surely disagree.

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