Miami Herald: Up to 50 arrested at Payá funeral, family and supporters insist his death was no accident

July 25, 2012 9:01 amComments OffViews:

Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá was buried Tuesday as police dragged off and allegedly beat at least 40 supporters who shouted “Freedom!” after his funeral mass, in a clash watched by a large and impassive crowd in Havana.

Relatives and supporters voiced new allegations that Payá was killed in a car crash caused by another vehicle, but a Madrid newspaper reported the Spaniard at the wheel of the car carrying the dissident told police the accident was his fault.

Police detained 40 to 50 dissidents, and beat some of them severely, as more than 300 people left the El Salvador del Mundo church Tuesday morning and started the funeral procession to the Colón Cemetery, said Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez..

Among those reported “brutally beaten” was dissident Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the 2010 European Parliament’s Sakharov price, which Payá won in 2002. Several had been released by Tuesday evening, Sánchez told El Nuevo Herald.

A video of the confrontation showed hundreds of passersby watching in stony silence. One woman is heard off-camera shouting “Viva Fidel!” But she does not get the usual “Viva!” response from the crowd and someone tells her, “No one is paying attention to you.”

During the funeral mass, Payá’s daughter, Rosa Maria, declared that she holds the Cuban government responsible for any harm that comes to her family “because of the repeated threats against the life of my father” over the years. A mass was also held for Payá late Tuesday at Ermita de la Caridad, known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Miami.

Payá and another Cuban dissident, Harold Cepero, were killed and two European politicians — Angel Carromero of Spain and Jens Aron Modig of Sweden — suffered minor injuries in a crash Sunday near the eastern city of Bayamo.

The Cuban government described it as a one-car accident and Spain’s El Mundo newspaper reported Tuesday, without identifying its sources, that Carromero, who was at the wheel, told Cuban police he missed a sign to slow down on a curve, lost control and went off the road.

Payá’s son Oswaldo told journalists Tuesday, however, that the Europeans phoned their bosses in Sweden and Spain Sunday “to say that a truck hit them, crashed into them, rammed them several times until it drove them off the road.”

Carromero also called one of his supervisors hours before the crash to report he was being “pursued” by another vehicle, said Regis Iglesia, the Madrid representative of Payá’s Christian Liberation Movement (MCL). Iglesia told El Nuevo Herald he spoke with the Carromero supervisor, in the youth wing of the ruling Popular Party.

Carromero was being held in Bayamo on Tuesday and could face charges in the fatal crash. Modig gave a deposition Monday and was in Havana on Tuesday trying to a get a seat on a plane to Europe, a European diplomat in the Cuban capital told El Nuevo Herald.

The truth of the crash will not be known until Modig and Carromero go home and offer “an objective and irrefutable testimony” free from possible Cuban government pressures, said Sánchez, whose own preliminary inquiry tended to support the government version.

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