By Julian Pecquet - 07/23/12 08:01 PM EDT
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Monday that the death of a prominent Cuban dissident in an apparent automobile accident raises “questions” about the Castro regime's potential involvement.
Oswaldo Payá, a 60-year-old electrical engineer who led the drive for a referendum on the freedom of speech and assembly, died Sunday in what police say was a one-car crash after the driver lost control and hit a tree. Another Cuban activist in the car also died, the Associated Press reports, and two passengers were injured.
Payá's death some 500 miles east of his home in Havana comes less than a year after the death of another prominent activist in Cuba, Laura Pollan.
Romney called Payá's death “profoundly heartbreaking and infuriating.”
“The circumstances surrounding Mr. Payá’s death again raise questions about the pattern of conduct by a despotic regime that is constantly seeking ways to annihilate all internal dissent while the world stands in silence,” Romney said in a statement. “The international community should demand that the facts concerning Payá’s death be accurately determined and that the surviving witnesses be protected.”
“Although the circumstances of his death are unclear, the facts cannot be ignored that Oswaldo Payá had been harassed by Cuban state security authorities for decades,” she said. “Payá, along with his fellow pro-democracy dissidents, symbolizes the struggle against the tyranny of the Castro regime and the oppression and cruelty that it embodies.”
The Republicans' remarks are in sharp contrast to the Obama administration's more muted response, which offered no hint of allegations against the communist regime.
“The president's thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Oswaldo Payá, a tireless champion for greater civic and human rights in Cuba,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “Payá gave decades of his life to the nonviolent struggle for freedom and democratic reform in Cuba as the head of the Christian Liberation Movement, the leader of the Varela Project, and through his role as a civil society activist.
“He remained optimistic until the end that the country he loved would see a peaceful and democratic transition. We continue to be inspired by Payá's vision and dedication to a better future for Cuba, and believe that his example and moral leadership will endure. The United States will continue to support the Cuban people as they seek their fundamental human rights.”
The difference in tone is emblematic of a larger disagreement on Cuba policy between Obama and many Republicans. The administration has called for closer trade and travel ties to bring Cuba out of its isolation and encourage democratic change, while Romney has vowed to reinstate the 2004 travel and remittance restrictions that Obama lifted shortly after taking office.