The Miami Herald
January 29, 1999
2 Cubans sentenced to death in slaying of 2 Italian tourists

             By TIM JOHNSON
             Herald Staff Writer

             HAVANA -- Grimly heeding President Fidel Castro's recent exhortation to crack
             down on crime, a court has ordered two Cubans to go before the firing squad for
             murdering two Italian tourists last September.

             Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez on Thursday confirmed the ruling
             but said a routine appeal to Cuba's highest court is still pending.

             ``In our country, the death penalty is an exceptional measure that applies only to
             very horrendous crimes,'' he said.

             The bodies of the two Italian victims were found Sept. 13 along a highway leading
             to beaches east of Havana. Cuban news media never reported the murders.

             Cuba is one of the few nations in Latin America with capital punishment. It is
             unclear how many people have been sent before the firing squad, though, because
             court verdicts are often withheld from the public.

             Gonzalez noted that several death sentences were handed down in 1992 for a
             bloody boat hijacking in the beach town of Tarara by several Cubans trying to flee
             the island.

             ``I remind you that the death sentence in that case was for the murder of a border
             guard, who was tied up, and for the killing of two police officers,'' he said.

             Gonzalez demurred when asked if the ruling was linked to Castro's virtual
             declaration of war on crime Jan. 5, in which he said criminals are like ``a fifth
             column'' attacking his 40-year-old revolution.

             But Gonzalez added that Castro had told the nation's police ``that he hoped our
             judges would not hesitate to impose this [death] penalty in those cases that merit

             In his hard-line speech to some 5,000 police officers, Castro urged the death
             penalty for drug traffickers and smugglers of human beings.

             ``I harbor the hope that our judges won't hesitate to apply it!'' Castro said to a
             round of applause.

             He also called for 20-year jail terms for pimps and home-invasion robbers.

             The speech sparked an army of beret-wearing special forces police to clear
             Havana streets of the prostitutes, hucksters and illicit cigar sellers swarming around
             tourist areas.

             The Cubans who face the firing squad in the slaying of the Italians were identified
             as Sergio Antonio Duarte and Carlos Rafael Pelaez.

             Gonzalez said both had admitted their guilt.

             Citing unnamed sources, the French news agency AFP reported that the two men
             had also confessed to killing a German tourist in November 1997 and a Canadian
             of Iranian descent in August 1998.

             In the murder of the two Italians, two other Cubans were given 15-year jail terms
             for complicity in the killings and for carrying illegal weapons, a Foreign Ministry
             official said.

             Italy is second only to Canada as a source of foreign investments in Cuba, and
             news of the killing in Europe threatened to affect tourism.


                               Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald