June 9, 1999
HAVANA, June 9 (Reuters) - Cuba has executed by firing squad at least one of two local men condemned to death for murdering up to four foreign tourists, a local human rights' group said on Wednesday.
``We have verified one of the cases with the widow of the man,'' said Gerardo Sanchez, of the non-government Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. ``We have not been able to contact the other man's family yet, but it is very probable he was executed at the same time.''
The confirmed execution of Carlos Rafael Pelaez Prieto took place on May 29, Sanchez added.
He and another Cuban man, Sergio Antonio Duarte Scull, were sentenced to death for shooting two Italian tourists, whose bodies were found dumped on a road outside Havana last year. The Cubans are also believed to have killed a Canadian and a German tourist, in attacks motivated by robbery.
Government officials would not immediately confirm the executions, which are normally announced in state media.
According to the rights' commission, the presumed executions would bring to 12 the number of people sent to the firing squad in Cuba so far this year, compared to only two reported in 1998. ``Twelve is the list we have, but there could be more,'' Sanchez said.
The ruling Communist Party announced at the start of the year a tougher approach to violent crime, which had been rising in Cuba although it was still relatively rare compared to other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Authorities filled the streets with police. And in February, Cuba's National Assembly passed modifications toughening the existing penal code and extending the existing death penalty to cover violent robberies or attacks against persons of authority and violent abuse of children.
Although no statistics have been given, the measures appear to have braked the crime problem, according to most Cubans.
The rights commission, which monitors human rights issues in Cuba but is not formally recognised by the government, recently listed another 12 people it said were currently under sentence of death, awaiting the results of appeal processes. That included the two presumably executed on May 29.
Among those awaiting execution were two Salvadoran nationals, Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon and Otto Rene Rodriguez Llerena, condemned to death earlier this year for their part in a 1997 bombing campaign against hotels in Cuba which killed an Italian visitor.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited
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