Family of Cuban dissident who died in mysterious car crash sues accused American diplomat-turned-spy

MIAMI– The widow of a prominent Cuban dissident who died in a mysterious car crash has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a former U.S. ambassador suspected of working for Cuba. She accuses the former diplomat of sharing intelligence that prompted Cuba’s communist leaders to assassinate a key opponent.

Oswaldo Payá died in 2012 when his car crashed into a tree in eastern Cuba, in what the government said was an accident caused by driver error. However, a survivor said the vehicle had been rammed from behind by a red Lada with government plates, a claim in line with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ findings last year that state security agents likely participated in the death of the activist.

In the state lawsuit filed Thursday in Miami, Ofelia Payá Manual accused Rocha, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, of being “complicit” in the “murder” of her husband. Rocha was arrested in December on charges that he worked as a secret agent for Cuba as early as the 1970s.

Rocha “directly assisted Cuban officials by providing them with critical information obtained through his top secret security clearance and influential roles,” the lawsuit alleges. “Cuba could not have executed Mr. Payá with impunity without the defendant conspiring with, providing intelligence and assistance to the Cuban dictatorship.”

The lawsuit, filed on what would have been Payá’s 72nd birthday, underlines the deep anger and sense of betrayal felt by Miami’s powerful Cuban exile community, which viewed Rocha as a conservative standard-bearer and one of their own. Payá is represented pro bono by attorney Carlos Trujillo, the son of Cuban immigrants who served as ambassador to the Organization of American State during the Trump administration.

While the lawsuit does not cite any evidence linking Rocha to the deaths, it does allege that as a diplomat and in business after his retirement from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2002, Rocha sought ways to secretly strengthen Castro’s revolution.

These efforts reportedly included securing a position from 2006 to 2012 as special advisor to the head of the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, which has responsibility for Cuba.

“Under this veneer of loyalty and servitude to the United States, Defendant maintained a clandestine allegiance to the Cuban regime,” the lawsuit alleges.

An investigation by The Associated Press of secret diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks found that over 20 months between 2006 and 2008, diplomats from the US Interests Section in Havana sent Southcom’s commander 22 reports on Payá’s activities, his financing by the US government and interactions with U.S. officials.

In one telegram, dated February 2008, then-Chief of Mission Michael Parmly summarized for Navy Admiral James Stavridis, then commander of Southcom, a meeting with Payá, urging the activist to take advantage of an upcoming visit from the Vatican to step up its efforts. pressure on the government to release more political prisoners.

“Payá remains convinced that the (government) within Cuba is feeling intense pressure from the population to make profound changes,” the cable said.

Rocha’s attorney, Jacqueline Arango, and Southcom did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

At the time of his death at the age of 60, Payá had earned a reputation as the Cuban government’s most persistent opponent, having built a grassroots network of like-minded Christians called the Varela Project to promote freedom of assembly and human rights on a tight basis. controlled island.

In 2002, the European Union awarded Payá its most important human rights award, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. He dedicated the prize to his fellow countrymen. “You are also entitled to rights,” he said in his acceptance speech.

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