Police haul off Cuban dissidents

Raid occurs at funeral for prominent Castro critic, who died in a mysterious crash

Yoani Sánchez Agencies
Havana -
Mourners carry the coffin of dissident Oswaldo Payá, who died in a car crash on Sunday.
Mourners carry the coffin of dissident Oswaldo Payá, who died in a car crash on Sunday.Ramón Espinosa (AP)

At least seven opponents of the Raúl Castro regime, including independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas, were still being held on Wednesday after they were detained the day before at the massive funeral for dissident Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in a mysterious car accident over the weekend.

The arrests came after plain-clothes police initially stopped about 50 people who were trying to attend Payá's funeral and hauled them away in a bus. Most were released, according to the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission.

The death of the prominent Cuban dissident in a road accident over the weekend has raised suspicions among his family that the incident was caused by another vehicle. Family members publicly asked Cuban authorities to carry out a transparent inquiry over the circumstances of the crash, which occurred on Sunday in the eastern part of the island.

Payá was the founder of the dissident party, the Christian Liberation Movement.

At press time, police were also holding in custody Spaniard Ángel Carromero, a leader of the Popular Party's youth organization Nuevas Generaciónes, who was reportedly driving the vehicle in which the 60-year-old Payá was riding. Another passenger who was slightly injured, Jens Aron Modig, of the Swedish Christian Democrat Youth League, a wing of Sweden's ruling alliance, was allowed to return to Havana with Swedish diplomats, Europa Press reported.

We want justice for the violent deaths of my father and our young friend"

Charges have not been filed against Carromero, according to PP congressional leader Alfonso Alonso. "What is important for us is that he returns home, and we believe the government is doing all it can to make that happen," Alonso said Tuesday.

A fourth passenger, Harold Cepera, the Christian Liberation Movement's 31-year-old youth leader, also died in the crash.

About 300 people showed up for Payá's funeral, presided by Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega. Outside the church, government security officers began pushing people into a bus before driving them away.

Payá was known for organizing the Varela project, a signature drive demanding the Cuban government introduce laws protecting freedom of speech and other civil rights.

Many of the dissidents who were at the funeral have also questioned the accident because the details of what exactly happened are not clear. The four men were apparently driving on a potholed road near Bayamo, the capital of Granma province, in eastern Cuba when the accident occurred.

According to Payá's daughter Rosa María, who posted a message on her father's official website, the vehicle was struck by another car. "The information we received from the boys riding in the car with him is that another car was trying to push them off the road, ramming into them at every moment. So we think - we are convinced - that they wanted to hurt them and ended up killing my father."

But in a statement, the Cuban government said that the driver lost control of the rental car and hit a tree.

"We want justice for the violent deaths of my father and our young friend Harold. We are not looking for revenge; we have no hate, because as my father would say: the first victory we can declare is that we don't have any hate in our hearts, just thirst for truth and the desire for liberty," said Payá's daughter following the funeral.

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