BAYAMO, Cuba — The Cuban government is to blame for the death of human rights activist Oswaldo Paya, family members said Saturday as they called for the acquittal of the Spaniard charged in the case.
At a trial that began Friday, prosecutors have requested a seven-year jail term for Angel Carromero over the July 22 car crash that killed Paya, an award-winning pro-democracy dissident.
"I think (Spaniard Angel) Carromero should be acquitted. I don't believe the charges brought against him, nor do I believe the government's story," Paya's widow Ofelia Acevedo told AFP as she visited the site where her husband lost his life.
"He is innocent," Acevedo said of Carromero, who was driving when her husband's car hit a tree in an accident that killed the activist but not Carromero, 26, or Swedish activist Jens Aron Modig, 27.
Another Cuban dissident Harold Cepero, 31, was also killed in the crash.
Paya's daughter Rosa Maria Paya, and her brothers Osvaldo and Reinaldo are seeking an international investigation into the death of their father. He had won the European Parliament's top human rights award, the 2002 Sakharov prize, for opposing the Americas' only one-party Communist regime.
"My impression from this poorly run circus (of a trial) is that they (the government) have a lot to hide," charged an emotional Rosa Maria Paya.
The Paya family said they wanted to speak with Carromero but were barred from doing so.
Cuban authorities say the Spaniard was behind the wheel, driving above the speed limit, when his rental car hit an unpaved section of road outside Bayamo, causing him to lose control of the vehicle and crash into a tree, claiming the life of one of the government's leading foes.
President Raul Castro's government has drawn intense criticism from dissidents about the high-profile Paya case, and it has not taken the jibes lightly.
Shortly before the start of the trial, Cuban authorities detained celebrated dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez and her husband, who had traveled to Bayamo to write about the proceedings, for about 30 hours. All media in Cuba are state-controlled.
"We are grateful to everybody who has raised their voices and their tweets so that we could return home," Sanchez said in a tweet after she was set free.
Sanchez, 37, began commenting on daily life in Cuba on her Generacion Y blog in 2007, but ran foul of the regime for criticizing Fidel and Raul Castro.
Last week, Sanchez filed a complaint against Cuba with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for repeatedly refusing her permission to leave the country, according to her attorney, who said she has been unable to leave Cuba since 2007 although she has requested permission to do so on some 20 occasions.
At the trial here Friday, Isabel Barzaga of the Interior Ministry said Carromero, who was at the wheel of the car at the moment of the crash, was "frankly a reckless person."
"It was not an isolated lapse," Barzaga continued. "It is normal behavior for him. He behaves like a rule breaker." Earlier, Carromero denied that he was speeding at the time of the accident.
Dressed in a white shirt and beige slacks, Carromero, who runs the youth wing of Spain's conservative ruling Popular Party, told the court he felt "profound sorrow for the unfortunate accident that took place."
Madrid's consul general to Havana, who was at the courthouse Friday, said he was "optimistic" about the outcome of the trial.
"We're hoping for justice. Let's see what happens," said Tomas Rodriguez Pantoja.
Dissidents said that on Thursday, on the eve of Carromero's trial, Cuban authorities detained 42 opposition activists, including opposition leader Guillermo Farinas, in the city of Santa Clara.
A spokesman for the group, Ramon Jimenez, said they were freed several hours later.
Farinas, 50, famous for having staged numerous hunger strikes, was arrested along with the others as he was heading to a meeting, his mother Alicia Hernandez told AFP.
Like Paya, who died in July's crash, Farinas is a past winner of the prestigious Sakharov prize.
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