HAVANA (Reuters) - A Spanish political activist has been sentenced to four years in prison for the deaths of prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya and a colleague in a July car wreck, a Cuban government website said on Monday.
Angel Carromero, a leader of the youth wing of Spain’s ruling People’s Party, was found guilty by a provincial court of vehicular manslaughter because of reckless driving in the accident that dealt a blow to Cuba’s small opposition community.
Paya, 60, was a longtime leader among Cuba’s dissidents and in 2002 was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for human rights for his Varela Project, an unsuccessful campaign to reform Cuba’s one-party political system.
The verdict follows a one-day trial on October 5 in the eastern city of Bayamo that was marred by the arrest and 30-hour detention of dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez on her way to report on the proceedings.
Carromero, 26, was driving a small rental car near Bayamo on July 22 when he lost control over a stretch of road under repair and slammed sideways into a tree.
He and front seat passenger Jens Aron Modig, a youth leader for Sweden’s Christian Democratic party, suffered minor injuries, but Paya and fellow dissident Harold Cepero, 31, both in the back seat, were killed.
They were on their way to Santiago de Cuba to meet with Paya supporters.
Paya’s family and other dissidents charged that government agents ran the car off the road in a plot to kill Paya, but Carromero and Modig said no other vehicle was involved.
In the trial, prosecutors said Carromero, who has been in custody since the accident, was driving too fast and ignored warning signs, both of which he denied.
The government announcement made no mention of where Carromero would serve his sentence, but Cuba and Spain have an agreement permitting their respective citizens to return to their homeland for imprisonment if the host government agrees.
Officials from both countries have said little publicly about the case, which has strained Cuba’s relations with Spain’s conservative government.
Because the sentence was less than five years, Carromero could also be eligible for a kind of parole where he would remain in Cuba, but out of prison, diplomats said.
Modig was held for a week, then sent back to Sweden after publicly apologizing for “illicit activities” that included giving Paya 4,000 euros ($4,900) from his political party.
Reporting By Jeff Franks; Editing by David Adams and Vicki Allen