- - Thursday, March 21, 2013

More than 60 dignitaries and pro-democracy advocates from around the world have signed an open letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requesting that the world body conduct an investigation into the tragic deaths of Cuban dissidents Osvaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in an automobile accident in July 2012. It’s the least anyone can do.

The letter was prompted by a tour of European capitals by Paya’s daughter, Rosa Maria, and the blockbuster revelations by Spanish political activist Angel Carrameo, who was with Paya and Cepero at the time of the accident. Now out of Cuba, Mr. Carrameo went public with the truth that the accident was caused by a Cuban state security vehicle that rammed the car in which they were riding, forcing it off the road into a tree. The two Europeans survived, but Paya and Cepero, sitting in the back of the car, were killed.

Since Paya’s death, his family has maintained the Castro regime was behind his death, which is hardly surprising to anyone with a sober understanding of the nature of that government. However, the regime moved quickly to silence Mr. Carrameo and another European activist who was present, Aron Modig, by setting up a kangaroo court, in which they were held responsible for Paya and Cepero’s deaths.

The regime’s machinations fooled no one, except the legions of Castro regime apologists who have aped the party line from the get-go: that unprompted by anything, the car that Mr. Carrameo was driving spun out of control on a lonely country road.

Mr. Carrameo was convicted by a Cuban court of “vehicular homicide” and sentenced to four years in prison, but the quiescent Spanish government, playing along with the farce, nevertheless managed to persuade the Cubans after several months to allow him to serve out his sentence under house arrest in Spain. Both sides underestimated the power of human nature to want to speak the truth.

After witnessing the abuse heaped on Paya’s daughter in Europe by pro-Castro mobs, Mr. Carrameo said he finally decided to speak out, despite death threats and the “nightmare” that his life had become. He said he “could not hide the truth any more” because “the most important thing for me is that the Paya family always has defended my innocence, when they are the most injured by this tragedy.”

Mr. Carrameo’s testimony once on free soil is a dismal reminder of the Cold War, in which he recounts a Kafkaesque nightmare of druggings and intimidation by Cuban authorities to ensure his complicity in this Big Lie that he was responsible for the deaths of Paya and Cepero. He was held incommunicado in a dark, roach-infested prison cell without a working toilet. He said he was subjected to constant threats and was told that his account of what happened on that lonely road had not happened and “that I should be careful, that depending on what I said, things could go very well or very badly for me.” He was then presented a statement for him to sign admitting his culpability, saying his “speeding” caused the accident.

Mr. Carrameo, who said he still suffers from memory lapses owing to the unknown drugs he was given by the Cuban authorities, said he thought going along with the charade was his best chance of getting out of Cuba — which, ultimately, proved to be the case.

Given the United Nations‘ historical indulgence of the Castro regime, it is not likely that it would ever conduct any investigation of the Paya affair, which is a tragedy in itself. Individuals like Osvaldo Paya represented the future of Cuba, and only a few of them come along every generation. He was independent, beholden to no one, and rock-sure of his principles. He found an unusual strength in the rightness of his cause that allowed him to be unintimidated by the Castros’ thuggish ways.

Sadly, it is more likely that the deaths of Paya and Cepero at the hands of Cuban state security will be quietly swept under the carpet. That’s because their deaths are mortal threats to the current propaganda campaign that Cuba under Raul Castro is “reforming,” and that the United States should normalize relations with the country as a result. The killings of dissidents thus present most inconvenient facts to those dogged policy critics who will stop at nothing to have the United States recognize that brutal dictatorship. That’s why it is up to decent people to keep Osvaldo Paya’s and Harold Cepero’s memories alive for the sake of Cuba’s future.

Jose R. Cardenas was acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration and is an associate with Vision Americas.