The Cuban government was responsible for the 2012 death of a prominent political activist who had organized a movement that sought to force the government to allow more freedoms, according to a report released on Monday by an international human rights agency.
The activist, Oswaldo Payá, was killed in a suspicious car crash in eastern Cuba that his family and supporters always believed was caused by the government.
At the time of his death, Mr. Payá, 60, was one of the most prominent members of the Cuban opposition, having gained international attention for waging a grassroots campaign behind a referendum that would have given Cubans the right to choose the Country political system.
Many viewed Payá as the only person who had a chance to become a democratic challenger to the regime and pave the way for a more representative government.
The Cuban authorities had She said that the accident occurred after Ángel Carromero, a young Spanish politician who was driving the vehicle in which Mr Payá was travelling, lost control and hit a tree. Mr. Carromero was subsequently arrested and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for manslaughter.
But the independent investigation, which took a decade to complete and review the evidence and testimony of several witnesses, contradicts the government’s findings. Mr. Payá’s car was hit by an official government car, causing it to crash, according to the relationship by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which observes and investigates human rights violations across the hemisphere and is part of the Organization of American States.
Another passenger, Harold Cepero, a rights activist, was also killed.
The commission found « evidence serious and sufficient to conclude that state agents were involved in the deaths » of the two men. « Both were subjected to various acts of violence, harassment, threats, attempts on their lives, and ultimately a car accident that claimed their lives. »
Cuban officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The island was excluding from participation in the Organization of American States, which brings together nations from all over the continent and which former president Raúl Castro once called an « instrument of imperialist domination. » A 2009 resolution lifted the suspension, but Cuba has never returned.
Mr Payá was the founder and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, a dissident party pushing for a multi-party democracy on the island, which has been ruled by an authoritarian communist regime for more than six decades.
His efforts culminated in the late 1990s in the Varela Project, a petition calling for a national referendum to overhaul the system of government, including open elections, freedom of speech, and amnesty for political prisoners. The proposal was a provocative rebuke to the iron grip that Fidel Castro, then leader of the country, had over Cuba.
In response, the authorities arrested Varela’s activists and forced some of the petition’s signatories to revoke their signatures. Mr. Payá was « under constant surveillance and harassment, » the commission’s report said. The attempt to hold a referendum ultimately failed.
After the car crash, Mr Carromero was taken to a hospital where he was surrounded by soldiers, the report said. He explained that another car had crashed into them and forced them off the road, but a Cuban official insisted there had been no collision.
“Of course, I replied, it was a lie, that there hadn’t been an accident, but an overt attack. He punched me in the face,” Carromero told the international commission. He said the government pressured him to support their story. He also told the commission that the official said: « Your future will depend on your confession. »
The commission asked Cuba to offer reparations for human rights violations committed against Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero, launch a thorough investigation to clarify what happened, and punish those responsible.
« Government officials have tried to attribute their deaths to a car accident, but the Payá family knew it well, » said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the group that brought the case to trial. human rights commission, in a video posted on Twitter.
Mr. Payá, a charismatic leader, posed a legitimate threat to the regime, said Angelita Baeyens, the Kennedy Organization’s vice president for defense and international litigation.
« They couldn’t just kill him, » she said. « They had to silence him in a way that looked like an accident, otherwise he would have become a martyr, which he did. »
Ms. Baeyens acknowledged that the commission’s findings were largely symbolic as Cuba will almost certainly not comply with any of the panel’s recommendations.
« This verdict demonstrates what we have always known, which is that the Cuban regime assassinated my father and Harold Cepero on orders that could not come from anyone other than the top echelon of the Cuban intelligence apparatus, » said Rosa María Payá, head of mr. Daughter.
Ms. Payá founded an initiative, CubaDecide, in 2015 to transform Cuba’s repressive political system.
« We lived with the pain of the Cuban regime that assassinated my father, » he said. « We have seen the great failure of the dictatorship, which killed man but could not kill his legacy ».