January 28, 1999
Cuba hands death sentences to killers of Italians

                  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 the
                  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
                  state-run media.

                  Italy, after Canada, is the second largest source of foreign visitors to Cuba,
                  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 a
                  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 Italian
                  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 small
                  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 been
                  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.