Wednesday, July 25, 2018

19-year old Anouk van Luijk found in Cuba after going missing for three days: Providing some context

Placing good news in a proper context.

Anouk van Luijk found after losing contact with parents for 3 days.
19-year old Anouk van Luijk, a young Dutch woman who lives in the Netherlands went to Cuba on holiday and lost contact with her family for three days.  The last time they spoke with her she told them that she had lost her bank card and was without money since Wednesday July 18th. She was also sick and suffering from diarrhea. Without money, food, or a place to sleep her parents told her to go to the Embassy and she never showed. Finally she did not catch her flight home. Her parents launched a social media campaign after not getting what they felt was a suitable response from the authorities when their daughter was out of reach.

They flew out to Cuba to search for her, and this evening  Alexandra Valkenbur, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Cuba and Jamaica, reported over twitter that "[w]e found Anouk and she is already with her parents. Thanks to the Cuban authorities for cooperation." Anouk's parents did not overreact and took the necessary action to raise awareness and look for her. This is wonderful news, but for those ready to jump on a plane to Cuba it is worth noting that not all missing persons cases in Cuba have had a positive outcome.

Albert Romero killed in Cuba in 2015
Tampa Bay Times reported that Alberto Romero (age 39), a Tampa based marital and family law attorney, was killed in Cuba while visiting extended family on January 8, 2015. He was killed along with close family friend Hector Mario Cruz Naranjo. The two men were tied up, beaten, stabbed and in the case of the Cuban American attorney one hand was severed according to the source. Martí Noticias obtained a copy of the death certificate. There have been other cases. 

Brandon Ross died under suspicious circumstances in Cuba in 2013
On November 22, 2013 Brandon Bjorn Ross, a 31 year old American citizen visiting Cuba with his mother Onelia Ross, who is of Cuban origin, went out to take pictures in the early morning around the Hotel Nacional in Havana. The next time his mom saw him was at the morgue to identify her son's body. Government officials said that he had fallen from the roof of the hotel, but refused to provide Onelia an autopsy report and quickly cremated her son's body without her authorization. This despite Canadian offers to cover costs to ship the body home. Onelia (age 55) is an accountant who left Cuba 36 years ago when she met and married a Canadian diplomat who was posted in Havana. She had never spoken critically of the Cuban government until June of 2005 when she had a problem with an entry permit to enter the island. Brandon was a Canadian born U.S. citizen.

Lara Jones strangled in Havana in 2012
On January 4, 2012 Lara Jones, a 26 year old British woman who was "a highly experienced and cautious traveler", was murdered in Cuba. The killing did not make the news until September 24, 2013. According to the account presented in The Telegraph "the linguistics graduate was strangled and smothered by a security guard who crept into her room at the former convent where she was staying in the Cuban capital Havana."

Daniel Osmani Placencia Pérez
 The Miami Herald on December 19, 2001 reported on the roadside murder of a family of five in Cuba stating:

Florida residents as Ada Lorenzo, 52, and Celedonio Placencia, 60, who were assaulted late Sunday or early Monday as they traveled from Havana to their family's home in Santa Clara. The three other victims lived on the island: one of the couple's twin daughters, 28-year-old Yailén Placencia; their grandson Daniel Osmani Placencia Pérez; and Domingo Delgado, a family friend who picked them up at José Martí International Airport in Havana. The couple had flown to Cuba on Sunday to visit Celedonio Placencia's gravely ill mother, family members said. Their bodies were found along a stretch of the Ocho Vias highway near Matanzas. Relatives in Florida said they were shot and stabbed and that the couple's daughter had her throat slit.
Rev. George Zirwas strangled in Havana in 2001
In May 2001, the Rev. George Zirwas, 47, originally from McDonald, PA, an American priest was strangled in his home in central Havana, a month after he returned to Cuba to help the poor. The Reverend was found by a neighbor. A State Department official said his apartment was ransacked.

Claudia von Weiss de Venegas missing in Cuba since 1999
On November 20, 1999 Claudia von Weiss de Venegas, disappeared while on holiday in Cuba. She left the hotel on a bicycle with $500 and was never heard from again. Her husband, Miguel de Venegas, circulated fliers about his missing wife in Cuba and for his troubles was expelled from the country. Ten years later in a Hamburg news publication, Claudia's case resurfaced and her fate remains unknown but Miguel hopes one day to find out what had happened to his wife, but he has given up on finding her alive.

Joachim Løvschall killed on March 29, 1997
On March 29, 1997 Joachim Løvschall, a Danish student studying Spanish at the University of Havana was gunned down by an AK-47 wielding Cuban guard as he walked home. The body remained hidden for days. The shooter was never identified. Ten years after his son's extrajudicial killing, Christian Løvschall spoke at a parallel forum in Geneva Switzerland about what had happened:

Although the killing took place on the 29th of March, we only came to know about it on the 6th of April - I.E. after 8 days were we had the feeling that the Cuban authorities were unwilling to inform anything about the incident. Only because of good relations with Spanish speaking friends in other Latin American countries did we succeed in getting into contact with the family with whom Joachim stayed and the repeated message from their side was that they could reveal nothing, but that the situation had turned out very bad and that we had to come to Cuba as soon as possible.
At the same time all contacts to the responsible authorities turned out negatively, and worst of all we really felt nobody in Havana dared take contact to the police. Only after continued pressure from our side on the Cuban embassy in Copenhagen, things suddenly changed and the sad information was given to us by our local police on the evening of the 6th of April.
We are, however, 100% convinced that had we not made use of our own contact and had we not continued our pressure on the embassy in Copenhagen, we might have faced a situation where Joachim would have been declared a missing person, a way out the Cuban authorities have been accused of applying in similar cases.
Unlike in many other places in the world where one has to worry about criminals on the street; in the case of Cuba one has to worry about a criminal government that has no respect for human life.  This is what the promoters of tourist travel to Cuba won't tell you about crime on the island.   
Let us rejoice that Anouk van Luijk was reunited with her parents and we pray that she returns home in good health, but let us also not forget those who did not have such good fortune.

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