Hundreds of mourners on Monday thronged the wake of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, killed in a weekend car crash that relatives and friends charge was not an accident as the authorities have said.
Paya, 60, was the second key dissident to die in a year. Cuban officials said he died in a car accident near the city of Bayamo, but close supporters said that Paya long feared for his life, and now they feared for theirs.
“He had said they were going to kill him and this was the third accident he had this year,” dissident economist Martha Beatriz Roque said.
“Something has got to be done urgently so that this does not go any further,” said Roque, who was among 75 dissidents rounded up tried and jailed in a 2003 crackdown before she was freed after Catholic church mediation.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama Monday lauded Paya’s legacy.
Paya, an engineer and fervent Roman Catholic, founded the Christian Liberation Movement, a group pressing for political change in Cuba.
He won international attention in 2002 when, on the eve of a visit by former US president Jimmy Carter, he presented Cuba’s legislature with more than 11,000 signatures in support of an initiative calling for change in the nation.
Cuba was then run by former president Fidel Castro, and Paya’s move was a bold, landmark first confrontation between a citizen seeking wholesale change — economic and democratic — from within the existing political system.
However, his defiance of the Communist system did not bear fruit at home.
When Carter mentioned Paya’s project in a speech on Cuban state television, most Cubans, in a country with only official media, had never heard of it and the Cuban legislature ultimately rejected the initiative.
Cuban authorities say Paya died when his rental car went off the road and hit a tree on Sunday, about 20km from Bayamo. Another Cuban, Harold Cepero Escalante, who was an activist with Paya’s group, was also killed.
Two other men with them were injured — Spaniard Angel Carromero Barrios and Swede Jens Aron Modig, both 27.
They were released from hospital on Monday, diplomatic sources said.