Thu, Dec 30, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Cuba commutes death sentence

NEW ERA?Cuba has been trending away from capital punishment, as evidenced by the commutation of death sentences for two Salvadorans earlier this month

AFP, HAVANA

Cuba’s Supreme Tribunal commuted on Tuesday the death sentence of an anti-Fidel Castro activist who was the last death row inmate in the country, a rights group said.

The country has taken a steady turn in recent years against capital punishment. It last carried out the death penalty seven years ago and has commuted dozens of death sentences since 2008.

The tribunal was ruling on the appeal of Humberto Real, convicted in the 1990s of murder and “acts against state security.”

“The trial ended at 2:30pm and the sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison,” Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the opposition Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), told reporters.

Real, 40, was part of a team of seven fighters belonging to the Florida-based National Unity Democratic Party (PUND) who infiltrated Cuba in 1994 to set up a guerrilla base in the Escambray mountains, according to the government-run Cubadebate Web site.

All seven were quickly captured including Real, who was arrested on Oct. 15, 1994, “after assassinating Arcelio Rodriguez Garcia and stealing his car,” Cubadebate said.

Two years later, he was sentenced to death for “acts against state security, assassination, and shooting a firearm against a determined person,” the Web site said.

Hopes for leniency in the Real case were raised earlier this month when the Supreme Tribunal commuted the death sentence of two Salvadorans convicted of bombing tourist sites.

The Salvadorans were given 30-year prison terms — just the outcome Real had been hoping for, and received, said CCDHRN, an illegal but tolerated group.

There is further precedent for more lenient sentences: In April 2008, Cuban President Raul Castro commuted the death sentence of about 30 prisoners.

Yet at the time, Raul Castro warned that the move “does not mean we’re taking capital punishment out of the penal code ... We can’t disarm ourselves before an empire [the US] that doesn’t stop harassing and attacking us.”

Cuba has had a moratorium on executions since 2000, with the sole exception of three people convicted of hijacking a vessel and killed by firing squad in 2003. The trio had hijacked a boat with 50 people on board and forced its crew at gunpoint to take them to Miami in hopes of reaching the US.

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