HAVANA — Cuban justices have charged the Spaniard behind the wheel in the car crash that killed leading dissident Oswaldo Paya with vehicular homicide, the Communist Party daily Granma reported Tuesday.
Political activist Angel Carromero was driving the rental car when it went off the road and slammed into a tree on July 22, killing Paya and another Cuban dissident. Carromero and a Swedish passenger, both 27, survived.
Granma wrote that the Spaniard had been charged with "homicide committed while driving a vehicle on a public road." Under Cuba's penal code, Carromero could face up to 10 years in prison.
An official report concluded on Friday that the car was speeding at the time of the accident, which occurred on a section of unpaved road near the town of Bayamo in southeastern Cuba.
The car struck a tree, killing Paya and another Cuban dissident, Harold Cepero Escalante, and injuring Carromero and the vehicle's other occupant, Swedish political activist Jens Aron Modig.
Carromero was visited in custody on Monday by Spanish consul Tomas Rodriguez Pantoja and told the envoy he was "being treated well," a source at the Spanish embassy in Havana told AFP.
In a jubilant tweet, Modig announced Tuesday that he was already safely back in Europe.
"European soil is under my feet. How wonderful!" the Swede wrote, without saying which country he was in.
Granma wrote that Modig had been granted permission to leave Cuba, "despite being involved in illegal activities inconsistent with his immigration status" as a tourist.
Modig, the head of Sweden's Christian Democratic Youth movement, had been held by the Cuban authorities for several days after being released from hospital shortly after the accident.
Paya, 60, a leading opponent of the one-party rule of the Cuban Communist Party, was the 2002 recipient of the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov prize, which is awarded for defending human rights and freedom of thought.
Some members of the dissident community remain skeptical of the official government account of the accident, and suspect that another vehicle might have forced the car off the road.
Paya's widow, Ofelia Acevedo, rejected the government report that blamed the car crash on the driver. She also criticized officials for not allowing her to talk to Carromero and Modig.
However, the two European survivors both told a press conference on Monday that the crash was accidental and that no other vehicles were involved.
"I was driving in an area (of road that was) in bad condition" and lost control, Carromero said, noting that he had taken "all the precautions that a driver should take under such circumstances."
Paya's relatives are yet to issue a response to the statements by the two Europeans.
Paya, a fervent Catholic, is best known for presenting the Cuban parliament in 2002 with a petition signed by 11,000 people demanding political change in Cuba.
Known as the "Varela Project," the initiative was instrumental in opening debate in Cuba on the direction of a communist regime dominated for more than half a century by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul.
Paya's death was keenly felt among Cuba's dissident community, and authorities have been quick to respond to any sign of protests.
About 50 people were arrested last Tuesday after they emerged from Paya's funeral in Havana shouting anti-government slogans. Most were later released without charge, activists said.
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