UNITED STATES-RIGHTS-US joins call for probe into death of Cuban dissident

The United States has joined heightened calls for an independent investigation into the deaths of Cuba’s most respected dissident, Oswaldo Payá, and a fellow dissident in a car crash that some allege was caused by Cuba’s state security agents.

The United States supports the calls for an international investigation with independent international observers” into the deaths of Payá and Harold Cepero, said US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“The people of Cuba and the families of these two activists deserve a clear, credible accounting of the events that resulted in their tragic deaths,” she added during a news briefing.

Payá and Cepero, an activist in Payá’s Christian Liberation Movement were killed during the car crash on July 22 last year.

The Cuban government claimed that Spanish politician Angel Carromero caused the deaths when he accidentally slammed the car into a tree in eastern Cuba. Payá and Cepero were passengers. Carromero and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig survived.

A Cuban court sentenced Carromero to four years in prison for vehicular homicide, but he returned to Spain in December under a bilateral agreement that allows each country’s citizens to serve sentences in their own country.

Carromero said his rented car was rammed from behind and forced to crash by a red vehicle with government license plates, and that he had been followed by state security vehicles from the time the four men left Havana, the Cuban capital.

Last week, a bipartisan group of six US senators signed a letter requesting that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR), a part of the Organization of American States, investigate the deaths.

“Recent interviews published in Spanish news media indicate that Carromero is innocent and that the vehicle carrying Payá was deliberately attacked by Cuban government officials,” the letter said.

The letter was dispatched to ICHR executive secretary Emilio Alvarez Icaza and signed by Senators Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, his Republican counterpart Marco Rubio, Arizona Republican John McCain, Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia and Illinois Republican Payá’s relatives have repeatedly demanded an independent investigation of the crash, and several Spanish and other European politicians, mostly conservatives, have followed suit.

Rosa Maria, Payá’s daughter, said the family might also file a lawsuit against the Cuba government in Spanish courts because her father had Spanish citizenship.