Saturday, August 11, 2012

Modig's lapses, and ours

Swedish Christian Democratic activist Aron Modig has now spoken about his experience in Cuba – the crash that killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero and left him and driver Angel Carromero of Spain’s Partido Popular injured, his memory, the questioning he faced afterward – and Modig is telling the same story to Swedish print and radio reporters that he told on camera in a press conference in Cuba. 
In sum: Modig was snoozing when the crash took place, he awoke when the car lost control, lost consciousness upon impact, and awoke again in an ambulance en route to the hospital.  He was questioned in Bayamo about the accident and had dinner with the Swedish ambassador there, and he was questioned in Havana about his political activities while being held in a windowless room in a house.  He did not enjoy the process. 
When asked for more details about the crash, he told Swedish reporters he preferred to stick with his memory and not to speculate.  (See AFP Spanish, AP English, and you can Google-translate this article from Stockholm’s Dagens Nyheter; if you speak Swedish you can listen to this radio interview.)
From various accounts, Modig seems not to have communicated with the Paya family before leaving Havana to give information or to express condolence.  Paya’s organization chided Modig today for failing again to express condolences to Paya’s family.
Carromero, meanwhile, is reported by Madrid’s ABC newspaper to have phoned a friend immediately after the accident to say, “We have just had an accident.  Things could get bad, and you need to help me out.”  ABC’s reporter got almost no information from anyone at the Partido Popular; all personnel are staying quiet so as to avoid saying anything that could hurt his case.  Some friends did say Carromero is “prudence personified” at the wheel.  For their part, Spanish traffic authorities have now revoked his drivers license, having stated their intention to do so last May based on his many speeding and parking violations.
How does all this figure into the speculative debate over what really happened July 22 on the highway outside Bayamo? 
It certainly does not support the theory that a Cuban government car caused the accident directly or indirectly by harassing Paya’s car on the highway.  This theory, advanced by Paya’s family, might have been sustained by statements by Modig made from Swedish soil.  But he continues to say he was asleep, which doesn’t fit a less-than-relaxing scenario where the car was being rammed by another, or harassed such that (as Paya’s daughter suggests) Carromero accelerated to escape the harassment. 
Carromero himself has said he was driving at 50 miles per hour the last time he checked, came upon a gravel-covered section of the road, saw a pothole, braked, and lost control.  It “could have happened to any other person,” he said in a statement recorded in Havana.  The Cuban legal case against him will apparently rest on the allegation that he failed to heed signs to slow down in an area under repair.
If Modig is sticking with his terse statement to leave the door open for Carromero to say what he wishes at trial, then he is also leaving Carromero completely on his own. 
Of course, it’s also possible that the Swede and the Spaniard are telling the truth.
Driving in Cuba is not easy.  Eight hours into this grueling Havana-to-Santiago trip, the group had passed the point near Sancti Spiritus where a wide, open highway turns into a two-lane road.  On the former it’s easy to average 70 miles per hour; on the latter you’re lucky to average 40 as you pass through towns and slow down for trucks, bicycles,  horses, parked cars, pedestrians, and vendors leaning into the highway hawking home-made cheese and other wares.  It’s hard for any driver – and this driver was new to Cuba, 27 years old, and judged to be unfit to drive in his own country. 
I’m all for being skeptical of government statements, in this case Cuba’s, and I don’t for a moment discount the rough treatment that dissidents receive.  And certainly the statements of Carromero and Modig in Cuba may have been be colored by their desires to escape criminal charges and go home.
But the many efforts to accuse Havana of assassinating Paya, or in most cases to insinuate that it did so, seem hasty and very political, even as those who make the accusations complain that Havana is making its own political points.  No one else is being blunt, so I will: The idea here seems to be to avoid the quite plausible conclusion that an amateurish political operation intended to help Cuban dissidents ended up getting two of them killed.  
Worse still is the charge that Carromero is a “hostage” in the absence of evidence that the Cuban case against him is a sham.  The idea seems to be that Cuban laws, even traffic laws, are illegitimate and should not apply to foreigners engaged in political work.  Even Senator Rubio has recognized Cuban “civil law” and the obligation of foreigners to respect it. 
The burden on the Cuban state is to prove its case.  The burden on us, it seems to me, is to let that process take its course.  The alternative is to send a message to the Cuban people that when two Cuban citizens die and a foreigner is involved, the only thing that matters is to get the foreigner out of Cuba and back to the comforts of home. 
Other items from the Spanish media:
·         From El Pais: “Madrid prepares for a long diplomatic crisis with Havana”
·         Luis Gomez of El Pais profiles Carromero, who as part of his effort to climb the ranks of the Partido Popular, “traveled to Cuba to fulfill a mission.”  Gomez could not verify if this was Carromero’s first trip to Cuba.  Carromero’s political mentor, Pablo Casado, traveled to Cuba in 2007 and later wrote of a “clandestine meeting” with Oswaldo Paya.  “My mission consisted of gaining access to the most surveilled houses in Cuba without being detained or jailed,” he wrote.
·         Mauricio Vicent, former Havana correspondent for El Pais, puts Carromero’s trip in the context of a long line of other Spanish political activists who have traveled to Cuba and been turned around at the airport, “thus obtaining the sought-after headline,” or who manage “to move about the island believing themselves to be a kind of James Bond” only to meet eventual deportation.
[Photo from the website of Dagens Nyheter.]

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