Cuban activist Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, one of the most powerful voices of dissent against the Castro family, died Sunday in a car crash. He was 60.
Paya and fellow Cuban activist Harold Cepero Escalante died in what government authorities said was a one-car crash in La Gavina, just outside the eastern city of Bayamo. The Associated Press reported that Cuba's International Press Center said witnesses saw the driver of the rental car lose control and strike a tree. A Spaniard and a Swede also in the car were injured.
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"This Sunday has been a day of mourning. A terrible tragedy for his family and a loss for the opposition movement," Elizardo Sanchez, a human rights advocate and de facto spokesperson for Cuba's small opposition, said to the AP. "He was a prominent leader. He dedicated years of his life to fighting for democracy."
But Paya's daughter, Rosa Maria Paya, said she doesn't believe her father's death was an accident, according to UPI.
"There was a car trying to take them off the road, crashing into them at every moment. So we think it's not an accident,'' she said to UPI. "They wanted to do harm and they ended up killing my father."
Paya is best known for his 2002 "Varela Project," in which he delivered petitions containing 11,020 signatures calling for democratic elections and freedom of speech to Cuba's National Assembly shortly before former President Jimmy Carter visited the country, reported CNN.
Cuba’s government ignored the initiative, but Carter later spoke of Paya's efforts during a speech that was broadcast on Cuban state television. The speech was the first time Cuba's government allowed an American leader to address the population as well as the first time many Cubans heard of Paya's attempts to change their country's political system.