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    Spaniard to face trial for car wreck death of Cuba’s Paya

    Spaniard to face trial for car wreck death of Cuba's Paya
    Thu Oct 4, 2012 1:37pm EDT

    * Prosecutors reportedly seeking seven years in prison
    * Paya was winner of 2002 Sakharov Prize for human rights
    * Paya family accused government of involvement in wreck
    By Jeff Franks

    HAVANA, Oct 4 (Reuters) - A Spanish political activist involved in a car
    crash that killed prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya goes on trial
    on Friday in a politically charged case that has strained Cuba's
    relations with Spain.

    According to Spanish newspapers, prosecutors are seeking seven years
    imprisonment for Angel Carromero, the leader of the youth wing of
    Spain's ruling People's Party, who faces two counts of vehicular
    manslaughter for the July 22 accident.

    Paya, 60, and dissident colleague Harold Cepero, 31, died when Carromero
    lost control of the small rental car he was driving and smashed into a
    tree near the city of Bayamo 415 miles (668 km) southeast of Havana.

    They and Jens Aron Modig, a young conservative activist from Sweden,
    were on their way to meet supporters of Paya's Christian Liberation

    Paya was awarded the European Union's Sakharov Prize for human rights in
    2002 for leading the Varela Project, a campaign to reform Cuba's
    one-party political system.

    The case touched off charges from Paya's family and other dissidents
    that government agents ran the car off the road, but Carromero and Modig
    have said no other vehicle was involved.

    The Spanish government has been scrambling behind the scenes to try to
    get Carromero, 27, off the hook and has said little publicly about the case.

    Since the conservative People's Party ousted the Socialists in an
    election last year, Cuba-Spanish relations have cooled and could worsen,
    depending on the outcome of Carromero's trial, western diplomats in
    Havana say.

    One diplomat said Cuba is insisting that Spain publicly declare it
    agrees the Cuban government had no hand in the car wreck, but so far
    that has not happened.

    Cuba has been equally tight-lipped, but staged a July 30 press
    conference with Modig to show that foreign involvement with Cuban
    opposition is not limited to its usual foil, the United States, and that
    dissidents get money for their activities, a charge the government uses
    to discredit them with the Cuban people.


    Modig, who like Carromero suffered only minor injuries in the wreck,
    admitted giving Paya 4,000 euros ($4,900) from his Christian Democratic
    Party and apologized for "having come to this country to carry out
    illicit activities."

    Shortly afterwards, he was released and sent back to Sweden, where he
    has kept a low profile.

    The balding, lightly bearded Carromero, appearing in a video at the
    press conference, alluded to his biggest worry - that the case would get
    wrapped up in international politics.

    "I ask the international community to please concentrate on getting me
    out of here and to not use the traffic accident that could have happened
    to any other person for political ends," he said.

    He also downplayed his culpability in the accident, saying he "took the
    precaution of any other driver" by applying the brakes when he drove
    over a section of road that was under repair and slid out of control.

    The Cuban government said he was driving too fast, did not heed warning
    signs about the road construction and jammed on the brakes too abruptly.

    Spain is hoping Carromero avoids a fate similar to that of U.S.
    contractor Alan Gross, who in 2011 was sentenced to 15 years in prison
    for illegally setting up Internet networks in Cuba under a U.S. program
    promoting political change on the island.

    Cuba considers the program part of longstanding U.S. efforts to topple
    the communist government.

    Foreign diplomats in Havana generally think Carromero will not be
    treated so harshly, if for no other reason than Spain has a previously
    signed accord with Cuba that allows prisoners from their respective
    countries to return to their homeland to serve their sentences, if the
    host country concurs.

    But there is also a feeling that Cuba does not want to alienate Spain -
    and perhaps Europe - by keeping Carromero behind bars.

    "Cuba doesn't want to open another front in its ideological battles. It
    may not love the current Spanish government, but it doesn't hate it in
    the same way it does the United States, and it doesn't want to take the
    risk of alienating all of Europe," said a European diplomat who asked
    not to be named.

    Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission on Human
    Rights, said the loss of Paya was "irreparable," but could have been
    worse if the dissident community was not made up of various groups.

    "If the dissident movement was a monolithic movement, the loss of its
    leader would something devastating, terrible, but since in reality he
    was the leader of one group we see the other organizations working as
    always and the repression continues to be high," he said.