An Interview with Aron Modig

Mileydi Fougstedt
Redactora Misceláneas de Cuba
Mileydi Fougstedt and Aron Modig at Misceláneas de Cuba offices. Foto: Osvaldo Alfonso.

(En breve será publicada en español la entrevista con Aron Modig)

( We are at the offices of Misceláneas de Cuba in Stockholm for an exclusive interview with Aron Modig; the Swedish survivor of the fatal car crash that killed Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in Bayamo, Eastern Cuba on July 22, 2012. Ángel Carromero, leader of the youth wing of the Spanish Popular Party and driver of the car was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter by the Cuban Courts on October 5th.

Welcome Aron to Misceláneas de Cuba.

What was it that first took you to Cuba?

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.

In view of the fact that this was your second trip to the country, do you think the Cuban authorities were aware of who you were?

I didn’t see any signs of being followed, but it is possible they knew who I was. If their Security Police track the movements of dissidents, then they should have known. On my first visit in 2009 I met with people I should not have spoken to according to their criteria. So if they have some kind of register I must have been on it.

Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá. Photo: Ahora, el blog de Misceláneas de Cuba.

What do you remember about Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero as individuals?

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.  

Do you remember any details about the rental car? Were there rear seat belts, air bags or an ABS-braking system?

As I don’t drive, I don’t tend to notice those details in the way that a driver does. I can’t say for sure whether there were seat belts in the back seats. There probably were, I would be surprised if there weren’t. As for the brakes or airbags, I couldn’t say. What I can say though, is that the car was not particularly well-maintained, but I can’t really say in detail.

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?

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.

Strech of the road near the place where the car crash occurred. Photo: courtesy of Humberto López y Guerra.

From these pictures, I can see that the road was unsurfaced, but it was quite wide.

But you can also see the chickens on the road and the pedestrians.

Pedestrians on the car road. Photo: courtesy of Humberto López y Guerra.

Absolutely, and the road definitely worsened as the trip went on. The first section of the highway was ok, but as we drove further from Havana it got worse and worse. I remember parts of this road being narrower than the pictures show. Actually, at times, cars had to stop to let oncoming traffic pass.

This road was built in the 1930’s.

When I look at these photos the breadth of the road surprises me, but I can’t give a more detailed description.

You lost consciousness immediately after the crash. When did you find out that Oswaldo and Harold were dead?

I found out at the hospital. I was recovering there after the crash.

Was it the Security Police who told you they were dead?

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?

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.

I guess you could have been asked to testify at the Carromero trial. Have they contacted you and have you thought about it?

Of course, I have thought a lot about it. Immediately after the crash, I was in hospital for less than a day before they took me directly to the Police Station in Bayamo where they interrogated me on the cause of the accident. They told me right then that there would be a trial, I don’t remember their exact words, but they told me I would not be at the trial. At the time it didn’t seem odd as I knew that they could throw me out of Cuba that same day. That was essentially what they had told me.

They filmed me. They held a long interrogation session with me during which they filmed my answers, telling me they would be used in the trial. They even took me to another room with two women, one to prosecute and one to defend me. Each of them asked questions, which I answered, but I have no idea whether they will have used this during the actual trial, no idea.


What was on your mind when your plane finally took off from Havana?

I think it was eight days in total from the crash to the day I left. The staff of the Swedish Embassy came to pick me up from the Migration Authorities and we had dinner at the Ambassador’s residence before going to the airport. I was thinking: “as long as I am with the diplomatic staff or at the residence, no-one can apprehend me, but then I will have to get from the car to the plane”. I was worried that they might change their minds and lock me up again. I had to get through customs and passport control and there still might be some trouble, they could have come to pick me up right until the plane took off. 

That’s why I was so worried at the time - from the moment I checked in to the moment the plane took off - so I asked the Swedish Ambassador to stay around until the plane took off, which she did, even though the flight was delayed. The plane finally took off an hour and half late, but I had been sitting in my seat all that time just waiting for someone to come and get me. It is only when the plane finally took off that I could I breathe easily again. 

What are your wishes for Cuba in the future?

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.

In Swedish there is an expression saying that “it is easy to be wise after the event”. What would you do differently, in view of this experience, if you could have your time over?

Do you mean in terms of this particular trip? I don’t think there is much to say. Everything was going according to plan until the crash, when it all went wrong. Apart from that, we did what we were supposed to do. I don’t now think that we should have done anything differently, or that we made any mistake.

And following the car crash, is there anything purely personal you would like to comment on, in what happened to you?

I was very surprised at myself: that I could keep so cool throughout the whole experience. I think it went as well as it could, because it is totally impossible to predict how you might react in a situation like this. I have, however, been left with a weird feeling as I have been home now for almost three months and Ángel is still there, even though we made the trip together and we were working together. It is strange - it feels terrible that the outcomes for us from this trip should be so different this far. But I can also see that there are things I can do from this platform. The very least I can do is to bring Cuba back into the public view, tell people what life is really like for the Cuban people. I have written articles and have accepted many requests to speak about my experience of Cuba, to reawaken public consciousness of the situation in the country.

Have you been able to make contact with Ángel Carromero?

No, not at all.

What would your message be for others who would like support the Cuban opposition?

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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