How Did Oswald Payá Really Die?
New evidence about the car crash that killed a noted Cuban dissident points to a coverup.
When someone is killed in a civilized country and police slap around a witness and suppress evidence it is known as a cover-up. In Cuba it’s called “reform.” Viva Orwell.
Cuba’s “ministry of truth” wants the world to believe that the Castro brothers are abandoning the use of state repression to maintain power. The Jay-Z-Beyoncé glam-tour of Old Havana last week was designed to help with the effort. But new details of the events surrounding the July 2012 deaths of prominent pacifist Oswaldo Payá—the winner of the European Parliament’s 2002 Sakarov prize—and another dissident, Harold Cepero, suggest the opposite.
The U.S. press has reported on the March testimony of Ángel Carromero, the Spaniard who was driving the car that the two dissidents were riding in just before they died. Mr. Carromero was released from a Cuban prison in December and returned to Spain. He says that a red Lada had been tailing him and that the crash occurred because their car was rammed by another vehicle. He also claims that when he told this to Cuban authorities, they struck him, more than once.
But that’s not the half of it. In an interview on Thursday at the Journal’s offices, Payá’s daughter, Rosa Maria, told me: “I must say that when I talked to Ángel, I didn’t learn anything new. He confirmed things we already knew. We had the text message. We already knew that a car hit them from behind intentionally.”
What she knew came straight from the mouth of Cuban police Capt. Fulgencio Medina, who took testimony from witnesses and read it aloud at the hospital in the eastern city of Bayamo where the victims were brought from the crash. Payá family friends were there, identified themselves as the family’s representatives and reported by telephone back to Havana.
But the family was then denied access to that police report. The family was also denied the right to an independent autopsy, and they were told that all refrigeration chambers at all the hospitals in the area had broken down, so an autopsy had to be done immediately.
Doctors who were friends of the family were not allowed into the Bayamo hospital to inspect the body. The Payá family was denied a request for seats on a flight from Havana to Bayamo. The family has also been denied a copy of the autopsy report.
Putting Mr. Carromero on trial and hushing up the rest seemed like a tidy resolution. But the problem for the regime, says 24-year-old Ms. Payá, is “that in Cuba everyone talks.”
The family has many friends in the Bayamo area and a few of those friends managed to get inside the hospital before the military locked it down; other sources who told them things seem to work there. “Our friends in the hospital talked a lot with the police in those first moments.”
Ms. Payá says that the government never officially notified her family of the death of her father. But at the hospital Capt. Medina read the witness statements “in front of my friends and other cops and nurses, doctors.”
The witnesses told of a red Lada, the same make and color of a suspicious car that Mr. Carromero described. They described seeing the occupants of the red Lada taking the foreigners [Mr. Carromero and Swedish politician Aaron Modig] out of their car almost immediately. The Spaniard was saying “Who are you? Why are you doing this to us?”
The statements did not say if Ms. Payá’s father was “dead or alive,” Ms. Payá told me. “But the witnesses said Harold [Cepero] was asking for help. I don’t know if out loud or with his hands but they said he was touching his chest. So we know he was alive and conscious.” Why then, Ms. Payá wants to know, did hospital personnel tell her family’s friends that he was “brain dead,” when they saw him lying on a gurney in a general area not receiving any form of intensive trauma care?
There is something else interesting about Capt. Medina’s report of witness testimony, according to those who heard him read it: There was no mention of the car being smashed against a tree. This jibes with the testimony of the foreigners, who both have said that there was no crash with a tree.
Ms. Payá says that a journalist permitted to observe the trial on closed-circuit television told her that Capt. Medina testified against Mr. Carromero and never mentioned the red Lada or the questions witnesses had heard him ask as he was taken from the car.
This was supposed to be an open and shut case, with the emphasis on the shut. But now that the contradictions have become public knowledge, the regime’s story is taking on a distinct odor. This is bad for the ministry of truth. Eight U.S. senators led by Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) have called for an investigation. Ms. Payá, who will return to Cuba next week, is worried about the safety of her family, and probably for good reason.