A Spanish political activist was sentenced Monday to four years in a Cuban prison over the deaths in a July car crash of leading Cuban opposition figure Oswaldo Paya and a second dissident.
Angel Carromero, the 26-year-old leader of the youth wing of Spain's ruling Popular Party, was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter by way of reckless driving at a one-day trial on October 5.
Prosecutors had sought a seven-year term for Carromero, who was driving the car on an unpaved road when it slammed into a tree near the southeastern town of Bayamo on July 22. The defense had been demanding his acquittal.
Carromero and a young Swedish activist, Jens Aron Modig, were seated in the front of the car and both survived. Paya and fellow Cuban dissident Harold Cepero, 31, were in the back and died.
"After considerable evidence was reviewed and due process observed, given the seriousness of the events, which led to the deaths of two people due to imprudent driving by Carromero, the court has imposed a sentence of four years imprisonment," a statement from the Cuban government said.
The decision, by a court in Granma province where the crash occurred, can be appealed, both by the defendant and prosecutors, said the statement, which was published on the official website Cubadebate.
If no appeal is forthcoming, bilateral accords between Spain and Cuba would allow for the Spaniard's extradition back home to serve his sentence there.
"We have to first get the details of the sentence that was made public today and after we will evaluate all the possible scenarios," a Spanish foreign ministry spokeswoman said in Madrid.
"The government has said repeatedly that the goal is to bring Carromero back to Spain as soon as possible.
"Right now a process of analysis and study (of the sentence) is under way with the aim that he return as soon as possible," she added.
An official Cuban inquiry found that Carromero had been driving above the speed limit when his rental car hit an unpaved section of road outside Bayamo, causing him to lose control of the vehicle and crash into the tree.
But Paya's daughter Rosa Maria Paya, and her brothers Osvaldo and Reinaldo, are seeking an international investigation into his death and have accused the Cuban authorities of involvement.
Paya's widow Ofelia Acevedo, who has also demanded an independent investigation, condemned the sentence for Carromero and said she thought the young Spaniard was innocent.
"Since the beginning, I have maintained that he is not responsible for this accident that the government is trying to sell us," she told AFP.
"I suppose that now they will expel him and that's for the best, so he can be quickly back near his family."
During the trial, Carromero expressed regret to the families of the victims of the accident but denied speeding.
"The last time I looked at the speedometer, I wasn't speeding, I was doing about 80 or 90 kilometers per hour (50 or 55 miles per hour)," he said.
Several of Paya's friends and relatives initially suggested the dissident's car was rammed off the road by a second vehicle and pointed the finger at the regime of Cuban President Raul Castro.
But at a press conference in July, Modig and Carromero both stated that the crash was an accident and that no other car was involved.
Castro's government has drawn intense criticism from dissidents about the high-profile Paya case.
Paya won the European Parliament's top human rights award, the Sakharov prize, in 2002 for opposing the Americas' only one-party Communist regime, gaining international recognition for his defiance over the Varela Project.
Under the scheme, he gathered thousands of signatures asking the Castro regime to open up from within by changing its constitution and laws.
Modig, the 27-year-old leader of the youth wing of Sweden's Christian Democrats, was allowed to return home after the press conference in July.