Cuba Takes Another Foreign Hostage
After Oswaldo Payá's suspicious death in a car accident, the regime
arrests the driver, a Spanish rights activist.
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
Cuba wants to make itself an international travel mecca. But it also
needs to keep the Cuban people away from pesky foreigners who could put
counterrevolutionary ideas, like the notion of the right to earn a
decent living, in their heads.
Last week the military dictatorship demonstrated how it plans to solve
this dilemma when it arrested Spaniard Ángel Carromero and charged him
with vehicular manslaughter in the car wreck that killed Cuban
dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.
There is every reason to believe that the regime is making an example
out of Mr. Carromero—a member of the youth wing of the Popular Party in
Spain—not because of his driving but because of his politics.
Foreigners: be warned.
Columnist Mary O'Grady on what to make of Cuba's decision to politicize
the death of Oswaldo Paya. Photo: Associated Press
If human-rights advocates had the technology to create, in a laboratory,
the perfect dissident to challenge Cuba's military dictatorship in
Havana, they couldn't do better than what God made in Payá. The
60-year-old pacifist was brave, articulate and unwavering in his belief
that if Cubans would only drop their fear, they could claim the justice
and equality under the law that is their due. A unique combination of
intelligence, raw courage and gentle humility made him Castro's worst
Payá's death immediately raised speculation in the human-rights
community about whether the regime played a role in the crash. If so, it
would hardly be news. Thousands of Cubans have been killed since Fidel
seized power because they refused to conform. Now that Raúl Castro—who
earned a reputation over the years as the "executioner" working for his
older brother—has been promoted to dictator, a hit job on Payá, if
that's what happened, would be a dog-bites-man tale. But there may be
more to this incident.
Also in the car was a Swedish human-rights advocate named Jens Aron
Modig, who was unhurt. In the days after the crash, rumors swirled that
he'd sent a text message to Europe from the wreckage saying that the car
was forced off the road by another vehicle. But neither he nor Mr.
Carromero has confirmed that, and no message has been made public.
Another plausible theory is that the car was being tailed—not hard to
believe—but that the crash was indeed an accident.
More could be learned if Mr. Carromero could speak freely. But from the
moment he was taken to the hospital in the city of Bayamo, he has been
in police lockdown. He has not been allowed to talk to the Payá family
and has only been seen by the public on what looks like hostage
videotape. In that tape he uses at least one term that is not common
usage in Spain, which suggests the script was written for him.
The Payá family has not pressed charges against the 27-year-old, but if
his is found guilty by the regime, he could get one to 10 years. Mr.
Modig, who says he doesn't recall what happened, appeared on Cuban
television last week with a government minder seated next to him. He
"confessed" to helping Mr. Payá in his work by giving him money, and he
apologized to the nation. He was allowed to return to Europe last week
but canceled a press conference on Friday.
It may be that a government vehicle provoked the crash and that the
regime figures that if it holds Mr. Carromero for a few years, memories
will dim and by the time he is released and tells the truth no one will
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But the regime's decision to politicize Payá's death has only further
fanned suspicions of foul play. A 1,500-word editorial in the state
newspaper Granma last week responded to critics who claim that the
government was behind the crash by complaining about Mr. Carromero's
affiliation with a party in Spain that has been a harsh critic of Cuban
Granma said that on a tourist visa he had no right to be cavorting with
Payá. It also lashed out at Mr. Modig and his ties to Swedish Christian
Democrats, who, it said, "rival the ultraconservative North American Tea
Party." The editorial went on to list numerous organizations from around
the world that have engaged in trying to help dissidents, or what it
calls "subversive" activities.
Another enemy operation named in the editorial is the U.S. Agency for
International Development. Cuba is already holding a USAID hostage,
contractor Alan Gross, who was arrested in 2009 and later sentenced to
15 years in prison for bringing satellite communications equipment into
the country. With the taking of what appears to be a second hostage,
Raúl, the so-called reformer, is reiterating his hard-line policy.
The Castros fear the increasing audacity of dissidents to speak out,
organize and assemble, and they know that contact with the outside world
has helped them. They have decided to put an end to it. That purpose is
served by locking up Mr. Carromero and holding him incommunicado.
"Opening" to tourists never meant allowing them to do dangerous things,
like mixing freely with the Cuban people.
Write to O'Grady@wsj.com