HAVANA (Reuters) -- A Cuban court has sentenced two local men to
death by firing squad for shooting to death two Italian tourists, whose bodies
were found dumped on a road outside Havana last year, the government
said on Thursday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez confirmed that a Havana
tribunal in recent days condemned the pair to Cuba's maximum criminal
sentence, which is applied rarely.
"In our country, the death penalty is an exceptional measure which is applied
for very horrendous crimes and only in cases outlined in the law," Gonzalez
told a news briefing.
The sentence for the two Cubans -- named as Sergio Antonio Duarte Scull
and Carlos Rafael Pelaez Prieto -- will automatically go to appeal at the
Supreme Court, whether or not the defendants request it, the spokesman
Another two Cubans, Jose Raul Hernandez Diaz and Lazaro Alexis Garcia
Ros, were sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for their roles in the killing,
which was apparently motivated by robbery. Their sentences included two
years for carrying firearms and 13 years for complicity in murder.
Cuban officials could not say when the appeal would be or when the
death-sentence, if ratified, would be carried out. The trial of the four took
place behind closed doors and with massive security around the courtroom
in downtown Havana.
The two Italians were found shot to death last September on a road near
Cuban beach resort of Guanabo, about 19 miles (30 kms) east of the capital
city of Havana, the Italian Embassy in Cuba said at the time. News of their
death spread by word-of-mouth; there was nothing on the case in Cuba's
Italy, after Canada, is the second largest source of foreign visitors to
whose economy is increasingly dependent on tourism for hard currency
Unofficial sources added, in versions that could not be independently
confirmed, that the two Cubans held up the Italians' car and killed them
during a robbery last September.
They were tracked down by Cuban police and then identified by another
Spanish tourist who was attacked by the Cubans on a separate occasion,
those sources said.
The Cubans confessed at their trial to killing other tourists, including
German in 1997 and a Canadian of Iranian origin in 1988, the sources, who
requested anonymity, said.
The slain Italians have not been officially named by the government or
Embassy, but the sources said they were called Fabio Usubelli and Michele
Violent crime has risen recently in communist-run Cuba, but is still relatively
rare compared to other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. The
death-sentences announced on Thursday followed a speech earlier this
month by President Fidel Castro calling for tougher sentencing of criminals.
Another Italian visitor, Fabio di Celmo, died in September, 1997, in a
bomb attack on a Havana hotel. He was the only person killed in string of
small explosions at hotels in 1997 that Havana blamed on Cuban exiles
opposed to Castro.
The death penalty has been used in Cuba since the 1959 revolution, after
which Castro's triumphant revolutionary forces tried and executed scores of
supporters of former dictator Fulgencio Batista.
In more recent years, the death penalty, carried out by firing squad, has
reserved for cases like terrorism, armed rebellion or particularly gruesome
killings or serial murders.
The most high-profile recent executions in Cuba were in 1992, when two
local men were sent to the firing squad for killing four policemen in an
unsuccessful bid to escape the island at Tarara, just east of Havana. Also
that year, a Cuban exile from the United States, Eduardo Diaz Betancourt,
was executed after being convicted of planning sabotage and terrorist
attacks on the island.
In perhaps the most famous execution case in Cuba, a former revolutionary
hero and general, Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, and three other military officers
were killed by firing squad in 1989 after a military tribunal convicted them on
drug and corruption charges.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.