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Spanish politician charged in dissident's car-crash death, Cuban media says

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed August 1, 2012
Ofelia Acevedo (L) widow of opposition leader Oswaldo Paya and their daughter Rosa Maria Paya (2nd-L) attend his funeral.
Ofelia Acevedo (L) widow of opposition leader Oswaldo Paya and their daughter Rosa Maria Paya (2nd-L) attend his funeral.
  • Angel Carromero could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if found guilty, state media says
  • Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya died in the crash; his family suspects government foul play
  • Another person in the crash apologizes "for coming here and doing illegal activities"

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- A Spanish politician is facing a charge of vehicular homicide for the car crash that killed prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, Cuba's state press said Tuesday.

Angel Carromero could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. He is accused of speeding and then losing control of a car that he, Paya, Swedish politician Jans Aron Modig and Cuban dissident Harold Cepero were traveling in.

Paya and Cepero were killed when the car struck a tree Sunday near Las Gavinas, Cuba.

The men had been traveling across the island to meet some of Paya's supporters in Santiago de Cuba when the crash occurred. The Cuban government said the crash was the result of a single-car accident.

Cuba: Dissident's death accidental

Paya had tried for decades to change Cuba's single-party system of government. He delivered thousands of signatures in an unsuccessful attempt to force a national referendum and was a constant critic of the Cuban government. But Paya also had called for reconciliation between the polarized extremes that dominate the debate over Cuba's future.

Following Paya's death, his family immediately accused Cuban authorities of foul play and said they had received information that another vehicle had forced the car Paya was in off the road.

"I can't take the word of the same government that wants to kill my husband, that threatened his life a ton of times," Paya's widow, Ofelia Acevedo, told CNN.

Acevedo said over the years her family suffered frequent intimidations at the hands of Cuban state security. She said she would continue to have doubts about her husband's death until she had the opportunity to interview both Modig and Carromero herself.

"I am asking for the intervention of an international organization that could send investigators here to do an analysis of the accident," she said.

On Tuesday, Cuba's official press published a 1,539-word editorial on the crash titled "Truth and reason."

The editorial announced that Carromero would face charges and that Modig would be permitted to return to Sweden. Both men had been held by Cuban authorities since the crash.

Again the Cuban government denied any hand in Paya's death.

"It's not Cuba but the United States that displays a shameful record of political assassinations, extra-official executions, including drone strikes," the editorial said.

On Tuesday, Modig spoke to reporters at a hastily organized news conference.

Members of the international media in Cuba were asked to arrive at the Cuban Press Center and then were taken by buses to a house were officers of Cuba's Interior Ministry stood guard.

Jans Aron Modig then walked into the room where the press had gathered. Sitting at a table with Cuban officials, Modig said he was sorry for having traveled to Cuba on a tourist visa to meet with members of the island's dissident movements.

He said he had come to "understand that these activities are not legal in Cuba and I would like to apologize for coming here and doing illegal activities."

Modig denied that another vehicle had been involved in the crash.

"I have no memory of any other car," he said, but refused to elaborate on how the accident took place.

After less than 10 minutes of speaking to the press, Modig said he did not want to take any more questions and left the room.

On Monday night, Cuban state-television showed about 20 minutes of video of the meeting with foreign journalists along with video of a separate and apparently longer news conference that Modig gave solely to Cuba's government-controlled media outlets.

Officials said holding two news conferences was necessary due "to space issues" at the house where Modig spoke.

Carromero, the Spanish politician, did not speak, but a clip of a video was shown by officials in which Carromero also said that the crash had been an accident.

"As far as the news reports that they have let me read, I ask that the international community focuses on getting me out of here," Carromero said, "and not use a traffic accident that could happen to anyone for political purposes."

Cuban state media usually does not discuss in such depth traffic accidents, much less what officials called "small factions of dissidents."

Dissidents like Paya are generally referred to as "traitors" and "sell-outs" who have sided with the United States government over Cuba in the still-simmering war of words between the two countries.

Paya's family said they were trying to adapt to life without him and with the added scrutiny his death brought.

"All these things we have seen on TV and the accounts of what they call an accident is very unusual," said Acevedo, Paya's widow. "But they don't talk about who was Oswaldo Paya."

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