Cuba commutes Salvadoran bomber’s death sentence

HAVANA—Cuba’s Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of a Salvadoran man convicted of terrorism for his role in a string of bombings that killed an Italian and wounded 11 others in 1997, ruling Friday that he should serve 30 years in prison instead.

Ernesto Cruz Leon, who has already been behind bars for more than a decade, was given the maximum term allowable under the statute, state-run website Cubadebate said, without providing further details of the ruling.

The re-sentencing means only two prisoners remain on death row in Cuba. President Raul Castro announced in 2008 that nearly all death sentences would be commuted, while a handful of such sentences against those convicted of terrorism would be reviewed.

Cruz Leon confessed to planting bombs in five hotels and a restaurant in a plot to scare away tourists and hurt a key source of income for the island. He was convicted in 1999 and given the death penalty, along with fellow Salvadoran Otto Rene Rodriguez.

The plot was allegedly organized and financed by Cuban-Venezuelan Luis Posada Carriles, former CIA operative and one of Cuba’s most-wanted men, who is also accused in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people and of a series of attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Earlier this year Venezuela captured and extradited to Cuba another Salvadoran suspect in the hotel bombings: Francisco Chavez Abarca, who allegedly recruited Cruz Leon.

Besides Rodriguez, the only other person remaining on death row is Cuban-American Humberto Eladio Real, a member of an anti-Castro group who was convicted of killing a policeman in 1994 when he stormed ashore in Villa Clara armed with assault rifles and other weapons.

Cubadebate did not say whether similar proceedings are planned to review their death sentences in addition to Cruz Leon’s.

“We have received this as good news because we are against the death penalty,” said Elizardo Sanchez, the head of the Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

However Sanchez said his group continues to be concerned as long as capital punishment remains on the books.

Cuba’s constitution allows for the death penalty, but the country has effectively had a moratorium for years on carrying out death sentences.

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