A Cuban jury will release this week the verdict from the trial against the young Spanish politician Ángel Carromero, which took place last Friday in Bayamo, in the southeastern province of Granma. Carromero is accused of vehicular manslaughter, after the car that he was driving on July 22 crashed and killed two Cuban dissidents: the prominent 60-year-old Oswaldo Payá along with Harold Cepero, 27.
The trial gained additional notoriety when the well-known Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez was detained on her way to the courthouse and released 30 hours later.
The international repercussions of the accident have been limited, but it has been recognized as a diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Havana.
The Castro regime is trying to use Carromero, leader of the youth wing of Spain’s ruling Partido Popular, to spotlight European involvement with the opposition, especially since Madrid has always taken the lead on Cuba in the European Union. The incident is also being used to start the first political crisis with Spain’s conservative government in the era of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The relations between Spain’s conservative party and the island’s regime have always been unsteady. The Partido Popular has traditionally been critical of the Castro regime, especially under the Government of Jose María Aznar (1996-2004), who in 2003 led the sanctions imposed on Cuba by the EU. When out of government, the Partido Popular opposed former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s (2004-2012) initiative to review the EU’s long-standing “Common Position” on Cuba.
Shortly after the fatal accident, a Spanish diplomatic mission in Cuba, headed by Ambassador Juan Francisco Montalbán and several high-level representatives from the foreign affairs ministry, unsuccessfully tried to persuade state officials to not press charges against Carromero. Since then, Bruno Rodríguez, the foreign minister of Cuba, and José Manuel García Margallo, his Spanish counterpart, have spoken about the issue by phone on several occasions but without a diplomatic solution or even slight progress.
Both García Margallo and Rodríguez met up in New York on September 26 during the United Nations General Assembly week. The Spanish ministry’s official statement gave little insight into their discussion, saying “Both foreign ministers discussed Mr. Ángel Carromero’s judicial situation.” Ambiguity has been a constant since the accident.
The Castro regime is charging Carromero and Aron Modig, a Swedish activist from the Christian Democratic Party who was also in the vehicle, with entering the country July 19 on tourist visas and “in violation of their migratory status, [getting] involved in clearly political activities contrary to the constitutional order,” as reported in an editorial in the official newspaper Granma.
Since then, the Spanish government has released little information surrounding the case. Modig was released and deported to Sweden after stating that he was sleeping at the time of the accident and couldn’t remember anything about it.
For now, Carromero and the Spanish government must anxiously await the verdict. The Cuban prosecutors leading the case (Payá’s family didn’t present charges) are seeking a seven-year jail term. Carromero’s family, human rights activists and international organizations have requested an independent investigation.
There is a possibility that Carromero could return to Spain even with a guilty verdict. According to Law 62 (article 46.3) of Cuba’s penal code, Carromero can be deported from the country even if the judge sentences him to jail time. On the other hand, there is also a possibility that Carromero could be transferred to Spain to serve the sentence there under a 1998 bilateral agreement.
Presumably, something along these lines will be included in the final sentence. In any case, the Carromero trial highlights, once again, the Castro regime’s eagerness to control political dissidence through judicial action. But at least Carromero might be able to go home—something Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero won’t be able to do.
*Alejandro Erquicia is a guest blogger for AQ Online and a Spanish-American freelance journalist based out of New York. He is a contributor at Foreign Policy en Español. His Twitter account is:@alerqui.