The Sweden-based website, Miscelaneas de Cuba, has interviewed Aaron Modig, one of the two activists who survived the car crash that killed Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.
The other, Spanish activist Angel Carromero, has been sentenced 4-years in prison by the Castro regime for vehicular homicide.
You can read the entire interview here.
But here are some noteworthy excerpts:
What was it that first took you to Cuba?
Modig: I have done similar types of political work in several countries. Before I went to Cuba I had been twice to Kenya and once to Cambodia, working on similar projects. I realized that I like to help and that’s really my main motivation. I had found a way I could help and share my experience of working in politics here in Sweden, so when the opportunity arose, the trip to Cuba was an obvious choice.
What do you remember about Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero as individuals?
Modig: I met Oswaldo two days before our trip on the Sunday and I had met Harold once before the trip. I am sort of handicapped as I don’t speak Spanish, so it was difficult to communicate, and as Oswaldo didn’t speak English, Harold was translating most of the time.
What I remember most about Oswaldo was his heartfelt gratitude at us being there to do this work. I also remember him telling stories now and then during the trip, which Harold translated. In one of the stories, Harold told about his expulsion from the University, back in period of the Varela Project. Oswaldo also spoke about the project itself. Harold had been expelled when the other students were made to vote him out. This was a very unfortunate event. He was more or less thrown out of the University.
Oswaldo showed me the empty fields where people used to grow sugar cane and he also told me about a relative of his who’d had a farm with livestock and pasture confiscated by the state to stamp out any commercial activity.
Two evenings before the trip, we had been in a bar in Havana, Oswaldo’s daughter Rosa María, Oswaldo, Ángel, Harold and me, and again, I had faced the same problem: they were talking in Spanish all the time and I couldn’t really understand, but I knew they were talking about the economic crisis in Spain and how it was affecting people. Luckily, Harold was there to translate the conversation, but as the discussion was very heated, I couldn’t catch everything or participate myself.
You have stated on the Christian Democratic Youth homepage that Ángel Carromero was not driving excessively fast. These pictures show the road where the crash happened. What do these pictures tell you?
Modig: I can’t remember this particular stretch of road. I was sleeping before the crash. On the other hand, we had been travelling for a long time that day - we had set off at 6 am. As far as I am aware, the crash happened around 2pm, sometime after lunch. As far as I remember though, Ángel never drove recklessly as has been claimed.
You lost consciousness immediately after the crash. When did you find out that Oswaldo and Harold were dead?
Modig: I found out at the hospital. I was recovering there after the crash.
Was it the Security Police who told you they were dead?
Modig: No, no, no. I found out through friends here in Sweden. No-one at the hospital told me anything. I had my Swedish mobile phone with me while I was in the hospital. My friends told me “there are rumours that they are dead”. The Cuban authorities never informed me of their deaths, either then or later. It is possible they mentioned it during the interrogations, but I can’t be sure of that detail. The questioning came several days later.
What was your darkest hour? When did you realize the seriousness of the incident?
Modig: I think there were two periods that were really hard. To begin with, I was very confused, and I have thought long and hard about it. By my calculations, I was unconscious for about 30 minutes, which is quite a long time anyway. I suffered headaches for several weeks afterwards. As I said, I was generally quite confused, but there were a lot of people around me in the hospital and they took over me, I had a drip in my arm, I had to walk up and down, they needed to x-ray my neck a couple of times, they did other examinations and blood tests, so it was messy, I just remember falling asleep as soon as I got back to bed.
Later on, two armed men in green uniforms appeared and sat alongside my bed. It was only then, and I’d had contact with my friends in Sweden too, that I started putting the pieces together and I remembered we had been driving and became aware that two of the other passengers had died. It dawned on me that my situation there was not totally legal, I was in a hospital 700 km from the nearest Swede or diplomatic representative. I was in the middle of nowhere, in another part of the world where I could not speak the language and, suddenly, I had armed police guarding me.
Then it occurred to me that I could be made to disappear here, if they wanted that to happen. At that moment I felt totally powerless for the first time. I don’t even remember whether I was afraid or not. Reason dictates that I should have been, but I don’t remember, maybe because I still was very confused.
The second tough time was when they took me from Bayamo to Havana by plane, because I was thinking that even if not much had happened in Bayamo, at least the Swedish Ambassador had been there and she had been aware of what was going on. But when they actually took me from Bayamo to Havana, they did not inform the Swedish Ambassador, or me either in fact, where they were taking me and I had no idea of what was going to happen. I ended up locked in a room, with all my belongings taken from me and three armed guards watching over me. This was in a house in Havana with a high wall around it.
At that point I thought: “this could go either way”. However, while I had been afraid for my life at the beginning, I wasn’t by then, because I was sure the Embassy knew where I was; that I had survived the crash. But was also thinking that this thing could turn ugly - maybe I would be imprisoned or punished.
What are your wishes for Cuba in the future?
Modig: Naturally, I want a free Cuba, where voicing your opinion is seen as normal and natural in all possible contexts, a place where politics and the different possibilities for social development can be openly discussed, just as is the case here in Sweden and in many other countries around the world. That is the kind of society I think Cuba should have. Any other type of government is a form of repression.
What would your message be for others who would like support the Cuban opposition?
Modig: Please help the Cuban opposition if you have any chance to do so, any possibility to help, please do. That is all I can say.
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