The political activists, both members of the Christian Liberation Movement, died in a car crash in Cuba’s eastern Granma province on July 22, 2012, under controversial circumstances.
HRF presented their report on Wednesday morning at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, highlighting what they consider to be inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the official government investigation.
The NGO’s report concludes that the “evidence, which was deliberately ignored, strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident, but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state.”
Joining HRF’s general counsel, Javier El-Hage, were Rosa María Payá, daughter of Oswaldo Payá, and Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
The report documents several violations of due process, “including damning witness accounts, a grossly inadequate autopsy examination, and other key pieces of evidence that were overlooked by the Cuban judicial system,” according to a HRF press release.
Payá’s daughter said during a television interview that, ironically, the only people who can her case are her father’s alleged killers.
HRF President Thor Halvorssen says the report brings to light new evidence and hopes it will help the Payá family in their search for truth and justice.
“Oswaldo Payá was the most prominent Latin-American pro-democracy activist of the last 25 years, and he was killed under suspicion of foul play in the Western Hemisphere’s only totalitarian country,” Halvorssen said. “Yet, few mainstream politicians, media, and NGOs around the world have cared enough to insist on an independent investigation into Payá’s death.”
HRF says Ángel Carromero, the Spaniard who was driving the car carrying Payá, was taken into custody at a hospital after the crash and then transferred to a prison. Although he was convicted and sentenced to four years, he retracted all statements made in Cuba after returning to Spain in December 2012, including those he made in a self-incriminating video.
The report claims the evidence suggests that Carromero was forced to record his confession, and that the Cuban government ignored complaints from the Payá family, who were barred from court proceedings.
Carromero did not have access to a lawyer for weeks after the incident, and had no choice but to hire government attorneys who were loyal to Fidel Castro, according to HRF.
“The best available evidence, which was deliberately ignored by Cuba’s judiciary, strongly suggests direct government responsibility in the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero,” El-Hage concludes. He says the evidence suggests the car crash was caused by agents of the Cuban state.
On Tuesday, July 21, Rosa Maria Payá unsuccessfully attempted to gain entry into the newly inaugurated Cuban embassy in Washington. She planned to deliver a letter to Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales demanding a copy of the autopsy reports of her father and Harold Cepero, as entitled by law.
— John Suarez ن (@johnjsuarez) July 21, 2015
Payá, a human-rights activist, lashed out on her Twitter account against the embassy officials who would not receive her and sent out a police car.
“Despotism is called diplomacy,” she said.
EspañolFor a while now, the Venezuelan government has been openly disregarding even the most basic pretense of impartiality. While the intent is to intimidate, in reality what Chavistas are showing is fear. They're scared of making the wrong move. Those in power know that the real enemies aren't the overt opponents, but rather those who cheerfully put you on stage so that you make a mistake and fall hard. The ban on María Corina Machado that prevents her from running in the upcoming legislative elections was and will be an entertaining topic for some time. That is, until Diosdado Cabello comes up with another idea to buy time, or until he finds another scapegoat. That an incompetent entity, such as the Venezuelan comptroller general, banned Machado for failing to account for food vouchers is laughable. Especially because Chavismo has been surrounded by corruption during its 16 years in power and has become its own punchline. They have no shame, and make a mockery of Venezuelans. Some humble Chavistas — those who truly need the food vouchers to make ends meet — may believe María Corina truly is an evil witch who pocketed public funds. It's a pity that reality hits these poor people in the face so strongly, since every single day they must wait in lines for hours before they can purchase a couple of basic products. However, the well-to-do Chavistas — the ones who will take government-approved dollars at 6.30 Bs. and run to sell them for 600 Bs. — will probably be amused by the comptroller general's nonsense. The monthly average wage of an opposition legislator is around 20,000 Bs. for those from Caracas and 34,000 Bs. for the rest of the country. They all receive extra 900 Bs. for "food vouchers," bringing the total wage of a non-Chavista legislator to around US$60. If the comptroller really wants to protect public funds, there are more important cases he could be investigating. Rather than persecuting María Corina for what may amount to 35,000 Bs. during the 39 months she held office — more or less US$60 — he can look into how this administration and the previous one managed state funds. He could ask former minister Jorge Giordani for help, now that he has become an outspoken critic of President Maduro. Further, the ban on María Corina disregards the National Electoral Council's most recent whim on gender equality. She's got the levelheadedness many men are lacking — she withstood a beating like one of the boys — but just in case the government forgot: she's a woman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCWb9uD5pnE If there's anything that should be outlawed immediately in Venezuela, it is the government's blind eye towards the economic crisis. We can no longer tolerate officials such as the minister of interior and justice, who said Venezuela is a "beautiful place to live," and only criminals want to put an end to "the beauty" Chavismo has created. The Central Bank's refusal to release inflation and scarcity figures, just because, should be immediately declared illegal too. It might be more sensible to ban Tibisay Lucena instead, for daring to appear in official events wearing her Chavista armband and brazenly claiming that the electoral council she presides is an impartial entity. Or Jorge Rodríguez, the mayor of Libertador, who let the town drown in trash while he planned the ruling party's political strategy. As you can see, the list is quite long. Venezuela is in dire need of a spring cleaning, of the lies Chavismo has come up with to tell the rest of the world how everything is fine and that the government is a resounding success. We must find a way to eliminate people's fear to go out on the streets and demand their rights, and to subdue the armed criminals at the service of the regime who are willing to kill if necessary to neutralize protests. President Nicolás Maduro, can we outlaw Prisons Minister Iris Varela's policy to release criminals on probation without a court order? How do we eradicate the lawless motorcycle gangs, delinquents, and colectivos? Someone from your administration should explain what you're doing to suppress hunger, or why nobody has taken an interest in curbing inflation. For many years now, the government has outlawed the hopes and dreams of young people who wish for progress, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of murdered Venezuelans. Your administration has not been able to eliminate corruption, impunity, opportunism, or mediocrity, and this will be the stigma your regime will carry throughout Venezuelan history. But at any rate, Nicolás, we all know that what you're really trying to do is outlaw Chavismo’s certain defeat on December 6. Translated by Vanessa Arita.