By Tim Johnson And Elaine de Valle. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published Wednesday, December 19, 2001 in The
A Hialeah Gardens couple was buried in Cuba Tuesday, one day after their
bodies were found along with those of their daughter, an 8-year-old grandson and
a family friend in what appeared to be a rare and gruesome roadside robbery.
Family members identified the 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.
"They opened fire on them and then, so that there would be no
survivors, they savagely stabbed them,'' said Osmiel Vera, who is married to the
couple's surviving twin daughter, Yisel, and lived with them in Hialeah Gardens.
Vera came to South Florida with the Placencias -- including a son named Osmani
-- in 1995. Osmani Placencia is the father of the dead boy, whose mother lives
"The boy had wounds in his hands as if he was trying to defend
himself,'' Vera said. "This is a horror without a name. They were killed
The couple had fled to South Florida on a raft in 1995. They spent several
months at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo before being admitted to the United
They flew out of Miami International Airport to Havana on Sunday, according
to relatives. When they hadn't arrived in Santa Clara to visit the ailing
relative by early Monday, family members and friends searched the highway and
found the bodies.
Cuba's official media reported nothing about the massacre, and there was no
comment Tuesday from official government spokesmen. But several government
sources privately confirmed the five were slain in an apparent robbery attempt.
A woman reached at the morgue in Matanzas, who refused to give her name, said
the victims had been shot.
Cuban police said only that a "serious crime'' had been committed and
was under investigation. "They were found on the road near the car,'' said
Few details were available from authorities late Tuesday.
But Vera, the couple's son-in-law, said relatives on the island told him the
couple's luggage and jewelry, as well as medicines they were taking for
relatives, were missing.
Violent crime is rare in Cuba, where only police and military officers are
allowed to carry guns. But -- as with most things -- people can obtain them
through the black market.
Experts on Cuba expressed shock at the news.
"Having five people killed all at the same time is very, very unusual
for Cuba. I've never heard of it,'' said Gillian Gunn Clissold, director of the
Caribbean Project at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Another Cuba expert, Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations based
in Washington, agreed: "[Cuba] remains one of the safest places in Latin
Still, there have been several notable tourist murders in recent years:
In May, an American priest was strangled in his home in central Havana, a
month after he returned to Cuba to help the poor. The Rev. George Zirwas, 47,
originally from McDonald, Pa., near Pittsburgh, was found by a neighbor. A State
Department official said his apartment was ransacked.
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.
In November 1999, Claudia von Weiss de Venegas, a German married to a
Bolivian with business ties in Cuba, disappeared from the Playa Giron area. She
is still missing.
It is impossible to know for certain if there are more cases, said Cuba
experts who note that the island rarely publicizes such crimes.
"In Cuba, crime does not make the news,'' said Juan Carlos Espinosa,
who directs St. Thomas University's Felix Varela Center for Cuban Studies in
Miami. "It has to be really horrific for Cubans on the island to find out.
On Cuban TV, you don't see stories about crime like we see here in the American
Without readily available statistics, Espinosa said there is some anecdotal
evidence that shows a definite rise in nonviolent crime.
"The increase in robbery and property crime is quite pervasive, and I
think you can make the assumption that it's based on the economic situation in
Cuba. What stands out in this case is the violence.''
Osmani Placencia, the couple's son, has his own theory on the slayings. "The
police are either involved or they know something. The were shot with rifles.
Only police have guns in Cuba,'' he said.
Espinosa and other experts, however, expect authorities on the island to
move quickly to solve the murders to keep from losing more tourism dollars. "The
last thing they need is for people from Miami to cancel their trips,'' Espinosa
Foreign visitors, including Cuban exiles, bring valuable dollars to the
Cuban economy. About 1.8 million tourists visited Cuba last year. The Fidel
Castro government hoped to bring two million tourists this year, projecting
tourist revenues at $2.2 billion.
The killings come as Cuba struggles to recover from a 25 percent decrease in
tourism magnified by the post-Sept. 11 drop in international travel and
Sweig noted that the vicinity of the attack was devastated by the storm,
which tore across Cuba Nov. 4, damaging tens of thousands of homes and ruining
Countries where large numbers of residents travel to Cuba generally counsel
visitors to be alert to crime.
"There are no serious security or safety concerns,'' according to the
travel report on Cuba issued Monday by the Canadian government. "However,
Canadians have been victims of pickpocketing, theft, assault and rape. Exercise
caution at all times, even in tourist areas.''
Yisel Placencia, the surviving twin, put it more plainly Tuesday night: "There
is no security for anything in Cuba.''
Her husband had a warning. "We know that tomorrow and the day after,
more people are going to travel to Cuba,'' Vera said. "Be careful that they
don't kill you, too.''
Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report, which was
supplemented with Herald wire services.
Copyright 2001 Miami Herald