Human Rights in Cuba

Time To Change

August 2012
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Cuba Takes Another Foreign Hostage

After Oswaldo Payá's suspicious death in a car , the regime

arrests the driver, a Spanish rights activist.


Cuba wants to make itself an international 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 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 . Photo: Associated Press

If human-rights advocates had the technology to create, in a laboratory,

the perfect 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 , 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 in the city of Bayamo, he has been

in 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


The Americas in the News

Get the latest information in Spanish from The Wall Street Journal's

Americas page.

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 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 , who was arrested in 2009 and later sentenced to

15 years in 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.

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