Friday, January 10, 2014

Tourists and travel to Cuba: What the travel agencies don't tell you about crime

"Cuba has the lowest crime rate in the Western Hemisphere. Even in neighborhoods that you would avoid in other major cities (such as much of Centro Havana) you are unlikely to suffer any incidents of violent crime. Incidents, which do happen, are generally tied into a more personal encounter with ‘dubious characters’." - Christopher Baker in Cuba Absolutely and duplicated in Visit Cuba FAQs

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.

The claim at the top of the page relies on statistics and reports provided by the Cuban government and is contradicted by the suspicious death of Brandon Ross. There are plenty of reasons to question the veracity of the claims made by promoters of Cuban travel. Additionally, the last sentence provides a loophole that can be used to intimidate victims or their families from coming forward. It is essentially saying that when one visits Cuba one will not get into trouble unless one is looking for it.

The Castro regime and its agents of influence can do the rest to smear a victim of crime in Cuba, in order to preserve its reputation as a safe travel destination. If they do it all the time with human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience that they have killed then why not apply it to visitors when it serves their interests?

Despite this tactic other victims of crime in Cuba are known. Below are a few high profile examples.

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."

This has been going on for a while, but news coverage seems to disregard the pattern and report the "low crime" narrative and ignore the unique dangers that arise from visiting a totalitarian dictatorship despite:

December 19, 2001 roadside murder of a family of five in Cuba reported in The Miami Herald at the time were the names of the victims: Florida residents Ada Lorenzo, 52, and Celedonio Placencia, 60, their daughter Yailén Placencia, 28, their grandson Daniel Osmani Placencia Pérez; and Domingo Delgado, a family friend who picked them up at José Martí International Airport in Havana. They were assaulted and killed as they traveled from Havana to their family's home in Santa Clara. 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. The family had flown to Cuba on Sunday to visit Celedonio Placencia's gravely ill mother.

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.

There are cases of people having gone missing in Cuba. There is at least one case that involves a European.
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. 

In January 1999, two Cubans were sentenced to death for the September 1998 murder of two Italian tourists. A foreign press agency said the two Cubans also confessed to killing a German tourist in November 1997 and a Canadian of Iranian descent in August 1998.

It is important to underline that Cuba is not like any other country in the Western hemisphere, not due to alleged low levels of crime, but because it is a totalitarian communist dictatorship that has a complete disregard for human rights and that includes the right to life. This has dire consequences for Cubans living on the island on a daily basis, but on occasion it also impacts foreign visitors.

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.


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