Cuba sentences Spaniard to 4 years in car crash

A Cuban court sentenced a Spanish man to four years in prison for his role in a car crash that killed prominent dissident Oswaldo Paya and another government opponent, authorities announced Monday.

A notice published on state-run website Cubadebate said Angel Carromero Barrios was found guilty of the equivalent of vehicular manslaughter. Prosecutors had sought seven years.

"Considering the gravity of the events, in which the lamentable death of two people resulted as a consequence of Carromero Barrios' imprudent conduct, the tribunal imposed the penalty of four years deprivation of liberty."

It added that both Carromero and prosecutors have the right to appeal.

In Madrid, a Spanish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman reiterated the government's wish for Carromero to return home as soon as possible and said it will work with Havana to evaluate possible scenarios. She could not be named under standard department policy.

Cuba could simply decide to deport Carromero, or Spain could seek the application of a 1998 treaty, signed by both nations, governing prisoners serving sentences in their home countries.

Carromero was behind the wheel July 22 when he lost control in an unpaved section of highway under construction and skidded into a tree near the eastern city of Bayamo, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Havana.

Paya and another dissident, Harold Cepero, were riding in back and both died in the crash. Carromero and Swedish citizen Aron Modig, who was in the front passenger seat, were wearing their seatbelts and escaped serious injury.

Cuban authorities accused Carromero of speeding and failing to heed road signs warning of the upcoming road work.

His lawyer argued at trial that it was impossible to be sure how fast the car was traveling and said the signage was poor, and had been improved after the crash.

Carromero did not testify.

He and Modig, both political activists affiliated with conservative parties in their home countries, had traveled to Cuba to meet with and support members of the island's tiny dissident community.

Cuba calls the dissidents "mercenaries" and accuses them of trying to undermine the country's Communist system.

Relatives of Paya have publicly expressed doubt that all details of the crash have emerged, saying they don't trust a government they consider hostile. They also had called for authorities not to try Carromero.

"We don't believe he was driving at excess velocity. We don't believe the official version," said Ofelia Acevedo, Paya's widow, who added that the family maintains its call for an outside investigation.

"I very much regret this sentence," Acevedo said. "We did not blame Angel Carromero."

Modig, who returned to Europe about 10 days after the crash, called the sentence "unreal" and said his thoughts go out to the Spaniard.

"I don't think it's right to accuse Angel of a crime," Modig said in comments posted on the website of the youth wing of Sweden's Christian Democrats. "From what I remember of our drive, Angel wasn't driving recklessly. Paya's and Cepero's families and relatives haven't directed any accusations against Angel. It's wrong to accuse him of anything."

Paya, 60, gained international renown in the early 2000s as the force behind the Varela Project, a petition drive that garnered thousands of signatures calling for a referendum on political rights on the island.

It was seen as the biggest nonviolent challenge to former President Fidel Castro's government, and the European Union recognized Paya with its Sakharov human rights prize in 2002.

---

Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez in Havana and Jorge Sainz in Madrid contributed to this report.

---

Peter Orsi on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Peter-Orsi