WASHINGTON — The US Senate has passed a resolution urging an independent probe into the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died in what witnesses and government officials in Havana insist was an accident.
Paya, 60, a former winner of the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov Prize, which is awarded for defending human rights and freedom of thought, did not survive the July 22 car crash near the city of Bayamo, in southeastern Cuba.
A Spanish political activist, who was behind the wheel at the time, has been charged with causing Paya's death by reckless driving, but many Cuban dissidents remain skeptical of the official government account of the incident.
Paya, a fervent Catholic, was best known for presenting the Cuban parliament in 2002 with a petition signed by 11,000 people demanding political change in the communist state. The initiative became known as the Varela Project.
In Washington, the Senate resolution passed on Tuesday praised "the life and exemplary leadership" of Paya, and paid tribute to the "bravery" he and others showed in collecting thousands of signatures in support of the Varela Project.
The project was instrumental in opening up a debate in Cuba in the 1990s about the direction being taken by a communist regime dominated for more than half a century by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul.
The Senate resolution "calls on the government of Cuba to allow an impartial, third-party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Paya."
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a possible vice presidential pick for White House hopeful Mitt Romney, said: "It's important that the US Senate speak with one voice and join the international community and others inside Cuba insisting that the regime be forthcoming with the truth about his death."
The resolution also "condemns the government of Cuba for the detention of nearly 50 pro-democracy activists" following a memorial service for Paya.
And it urged Havana to honor the dissident by providing "its citizens with internationally accepted standards for civil and human rights and the opportunity to vote in free and fair elections."
Paya's widow, Ofelia Acevedo, has rejected the government report that blamed the crash on Spaniard Angel Carromero. She also criticized officials for not allowing her to talk to Carromero and to a Swedish passenger who also survived.
Both Carromero and the Swede, political activist Jens Aron Modig, said on Monday that the crash was accidental and that no other vehicles were involved.
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