Must-Read: Interview With Angel Carromero

Saturday, October 11, 2014
Yesterday, Angel Carromero, the young Spanish activist who accompanied Cuban democracy leaders, Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, when their car was crashed by Castro regime agents, visited The Miami Herald's Editorial Board.

Carromero emphasized, “What happened on July 22 [2012] wasn’t an accident, it was an assault.”

Here's the Q&A:

What arguments were presented at trial to sentence you?

The formula used to sentence me and to calculate the speed at which the car supposedly traveled has no validity, it's the one of rectilinear motion uniformly accelerated.

This movement doesn't exist and doesn’t account for the acceleration made when you brake, the friction. The international experts contacted by my lawyers broke all of this down. Experts from the CUJAE (Cuba’s University of Engineering) said it was nonsense.

Did those experts go to the trial?

In Cuba, if they accuse you, you’re sentenced. Cuban legislation doesn’t allow for experts to come and testify. This doesn't happen in countries which are not dictatorships.

Did you have access to documents relating to your case?

I never saw the report of my case. They didn't give my defense lawyer a copy. The lawyers has to travel from Havana to Bayamo to transcribe 800 documents by hand. Why didn't they give them a copy the way it's done in all cases? Because they knew that when they copied it that the documents would make it out of Cuba and the case would be read. The drawings of the supposed tests which they had done to me to accuse me had to be done by hand too, like children. You can laugh, but it's not a joke.

When did you send that text message stating, “Help! We're surrounded by military men”?

They let us keep our cellphones at the beginning of our stay in the hospital in Bayamo but later on they took them from us. I sent that text when I was in my hospital bed surrounded by military men. In that moment, they had obligated me to change my version of the story and were filming me with a handycam and I knew it was going to end badly.

The first thing he said was that they had run us off the road and had hit us. This made them nervous, and they hit me. Later on a Cuban official who introduced himself as an expert told me the version that I was to repeat: that I pressed the brake pedal and “fell in an embankment.” In Spain this has another meaning and the phrasing of the words is different too.

Was Modig sleeping when the accident happened as he has alleged in interviews?

There were times when he was asleep but he was the copilot. If he chose to remain quiet and turn the page, well I don't share in that sentiment. I respect it but I've chosen a more complicated road and one with worse consequences for me but I couldn't stay silent.

Has it been a long time since you last spoke to him?

Yes. The last time he came to Spain he simply told me he didn't remember anything.

How did you find out about the deaths of Payá and Cepero?

I asked in the hospital and in the interrogation in Bayamo they told me about it again.

At what speed where you traveling when all this happened?

Well, I don't remember the speed, but whoever has been in Cuba knows that on the main highway, even if you want to, you can't go too fast because it's full of potholes. Also it was a rental car and didn't work so well. I was with Rosa Maria [Payá] yesterday and we remembered that the day before the trip we were about to cancel it because the car didn't accelerate well.

At the time you traveled to Cuba was your driver's license in good standing?

Yes. Not even my family or my friends could defend me in Spain because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to return. The leftist party and the Cuban government took advantage of that silence to try to destroy my credibility. So, I took the heat from the media on my own.

In the book you're very blunt about why you filmed those videos in which you take the blame...

There's something very clear here, I was surrounded by soldiers, in a loathsome dungeon-like cell without access to lawyers and without being able to call anybody. I was alone and at the mercy of what the soldiers wanted to do to me. This is in Cuba, not a country with rights, and so they told me that if I collaborate, that they'll let me go.

What were you afraid of the most?

Of them killing me. They can do with you whatever they want. You have no cellphone, no outside contact, you're in a dictatorship. It was collaborate and do what I'm told or I wouldn't be here with you today. It's like a video from al-Qaida, my face was swollen and I could barely speak. ...

In which jails were you?

I was in Bayamo and later I was moved to Cien and Aldabo, it's an instructional jail. They stick you in there until you confess, and if not, they won't let you out. I was there until November in a cell in which they'd take me out once a day every two or three weeks. It was psychologically trying and I clung on to the fact that I wanted to go back and that if I did, I wanted to be well and I did it.

What did you do in jail?

Think. Think about my family and friends. Try to keep feeling alive, part of my life. Think about what I'd be doing if I was with my loved ones. I tried to not let the isolation they imposed on me affect me. I don't know if it's mental tricks or what but it helped me.

Did councilmen come see you at your jail cell?

Of course, they didn't let me out but a slew of military men passed by there. They talked to me and told me that Cuba was gorgeous. Of course, I had to act docile towards them because they were my captors and the ones who brought me food. It's difficult. I also fought with myself over that.

But on trial, despite having been docile, you decided to say you were innocent.

Of course, because the regime created a friction and did so in such a bad way that there were elements to defend myself from their version of the facts. My lawyers told me to declare myself innocent because even with their version they had proof to show that I was innocent. It was also an act of rebellion on my part, even though later I regretted it because an official threatened me. It's complicated to act without consulting anyone. One day they told me that I hadn't support from my party and my government. I lived in a contradiction, without knowing, and making decisions blindly is very hard.

When did you have that initial contact with the Spanish embassy?

When I was in Bayamo, the Swiss ambassador and the auxiliary consul from Spain. The ambassador manages to have her national sent home with her and the Spanish consulate just asks me how I'm doing and doesn't provide me with any further instruction.

It's also strange that they sent an auxiliary consul.

They told me that they tried to treat it as a case between consulates, but from that first moment, they didn't send an ambassador and only sent an auxiliary consul.

Why did the Nacional Audience in Spain disregard a petition to investigate the death of Oswaldo Payá, who was a Spanish citizen?

My return to Spain wasn't free. The Cuban government isn't stupid and got a lot out of my return. One of the conditions they put was that the Spanish government has to accept the validity of my sentence and can't revise my case. This was part of a prisoner extradition treaty that both governments signed.

Can Spanish authorities pardon you?

Yes, but they have to communicate that to Cuba first.