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Two Sentenced to Death in Cuba

January 28, 1999

HAVANA (AP) _ Two men convicted of killing two Italian tourists have been sentenced to death, the Cuban government confirmed Thursday _ a move that followed calls by President Fidel Castro to crack down on growing crime.

No immediate date was set for the executions by firing squad.

The two men, Sergio Antonio Durate Scull and Carlos Rafael Pelaez Prieto, were sentenced last week, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez. All death penalty sentences in Cuba are automatically appealed to the nation’s Supreme Court.

The Italians were shot to death during a robbery last September in Guanabo, just east of the capital, Havana. Their killings shocked Cubans, who learned of it through word of mouth since the crime was not publicized in the government-controlled media. The government has never officially released the names of the victims.

Two other men, Jose Raul Hernandez Diaz and Lazaro Alexis Garcia Ros, were convicted of being accomplices in the murders and were each sentenced to 15-year prison terms, Gonzalez said.

He said all four men confessed to their roles in the killings.

Although the number of killings, armed robberies and other violent acts in Cuba remain low compared with most other countries, an increase in such crimes prompted Castro to call for a crackdown earlier this month.

During a speech celebrating the 40th anniversary of the National Revolutionary Police, Castro said drug traffickers ``deserve capital punishment.″

``I hope that our judges will not be too weak to apply it,″ he said then.

Calling growing crime a threat to Cuba’s revolution, Castro demanded tougher sentences and urged judges not to shy away from the death penalty, which was common in the 1960s and 1970s but has been rare in the past two decades.

Once remarkably free of street crime and violence, Cuba has seen a surge in prostitution, robbery and theft in recent years. Many residents have installed security bars on their houses.

Declining state rations have made it hard for many to live on state salaries that average $10 a month. At the same time, new dollar-only stores tempt Cubans with quality food, clothes and electronics that few can afford.

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