Swede in Cuba car crash worried about driver

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By LOUISE NORDSTROM, Associated Press

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A Swedish politician who survived a car crash in Cuba says he is deeply worried about the fate of a Spanish colleague who was driving the vehicle and has been charged with manslaughter.

The crash on July 22 killed two other passengers in the car: Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya and another opponent of Cuba's government.

Swedish politician Aron Modig said in an interview published Friday that he doesn't remember what led to the crash and recalls only fragments of how the car suddenly swerved off the road and how he regained consciousness in an ambulance. He said he fears for Angel Carromero, who was driving the rental car when it crashed could face up to 10 years in a Cuban jail.

"Nobody knows what's happening to him there," he said.

In videotaped testimony, Carromero said he lost control of the car when it suddenly entered an unpaved road under construction and he slammed on the brakes, causing it to skid and hit a tree.

A Cuban investigation found that Carromero was speeding and failed to heed traffic signs warning of construction.

Paya, 60, was for many years one of Cuba's most powerful voices of dissent against the communist government of Fidel and Raul Castro, though his influence has waned in recent years as younger activists gained prominence. He died along with another dissident, Harold Cepero Escalante. Both were riding in the back seat of the car and were not wearing seatbelts.

Prior to leaving for Cuba, Carromero had been fined for speeding and Spanish authorities had been working since May to revoke his driver's license. It was finally revoked on Thursday, Madrid regional authorities said in a statement.

Paya's family has said it has doubts about the official explanation by Cuban authorities.

Kalle Back, a spokesman for Modig's political group in Sweden, told The Associated Press that shortly after the crash police in Bayamo questioned Modig about the accident, but that he was then flown to the Cuban capital to be asked about his political activities.

Modig, the 27-year-old head of the youth party of Sweden's conservative Christian Democrats, returned home July 31 after what he said were five days of high-pressure questioning in a windowless room in Havana by Cuban police.

"The questions are always the same: 'Why are you here? Who sent you?' They switched between asking questions and scolding: 'Don't come to our country and interfere'," Modig told the daily Dagens Nyheter in the interview. "In a dictatorship that's no good. Of course I got worried."

No questions were posed about the accident during that time, he said.

Cuban media have reported that Carromero and Modig entered the country July 19 on tourist visas and brought €4,000 ($4,900) for Paya's organization to help organize dissident youth wings. Paya's family denies that he received any money from the Europeans. The government considers the small opposition to be subversive and objects to foreign-based efforts to support them.

"I went there with good intentions to contribute to a freer Cuba, but was jailed and questioned. Cubans are treated like that every day," he said.

The car crash happened while the four were on their way to Santiago de Cuba, the island's second largest city. Soon after the accident, speculation spread that a second vehicle was pursuing the rented car and might even have run it off the road.

Carromero, an activist with a conservative Spanish party, and Modig have both said no other car was involved, but Paya's family has asked for an independent investigation.

Modig's party had initially scheduled a news conference upon his return to Sweden two weeks ago, but canceled it at the last minute, citing the ongoing legal case in Cuba. The interview in Dagens Nyheter is the first he has given since his return; he was not immediately available for more comment.

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Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana contributed to this report.

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