By TIM JOHNSON
Herald Staff Writer
HAVANA -- Grimly heeding President Fidel Castro's recent exhortation to
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
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
very horrendous crimes,'' he said.
The bodies of the two Italian victims were found Sept. 13 along a highway
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.
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
bloody boat hijacking in the beach town of Tarara by several Cubans trying to flee
``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
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
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
The Cubans who face the firing squad in the slaying of the Italians were
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
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
for complicity in the killings and for carrying illegal weapons, a Foreign Ministry
Italy is second only to Canada as a source of foreign investments in Cuba,
news of the killing in Europe threatened to affect tourism.
Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald