Thursday, July 22, 2010

Youth entangled in Cuban justice

Youth entangled in Cuban justice
Last Updated: July 21, 2010 9:27pm

Being involved in a car accident can be a scary ordeal.

But when that wreck happens while you're visiting communist Cuba, you're
only 19 and you suddenly find yourself detained for months on end facing
up to three years in prison — whether you were at fault or not — it's
downright frightening.

"I still can't believe all of this is happening, I don't understand why
I'm still here," a distraught Cody LeCompte told the Toronto Sun
Wednesday over the phone from his hotel room in Santa Lucia, where he
has basically been imprisoned since April 29.

"I've been terrified I'm going to end up in a Cuban prison," said the
teen from small town Simcoe, in Southwestern Ontario. "And I just found
out from my lawyer that's a very real possibility."

LeCompte just graduated high school in February and soon after, he
learned he had been accepted to the aviation technician program at Sault
St. Marie College.

His mom, Danette LeCompte, decided to reward him by springing for a
two-week trip to Cuba.

"It was suppose to be our one last getaway as mother and son," Danette

At the time, Cody couldn't have been happier. But since then the teen's
life has been turned upside down.

"It's just been an absolute nightmare," Danette said..

Two days after arriving in the impoverished country, a popular holiday
choice among Canadians, the mother and son decided to rent a car and
head to the city of Canaguey.

Danette's cousin, who tagged along on the vacation, and his Cuban fiance
were also in the Hyundai Accent, driven by Cody.

Just 40 minutes into their trip, Danette said they were travelling
through an intersection, which had no stop signal or traffic light, when
a large truck "broadsided" their vehicle.

All four occupants of the Hyundai were badly banged up and had to be
driven to hospital by locals, Danette said.

Cody and his mom were released two days later, but Danette is certain
her son would have been hospitalized longer back home. The cousin spent
one day in hospital and his fiance, who needed surgery to repair her
liver, was released after a week.

"She's fine now though," Danette said.

But the LeCompte family's troubles were just beginning.

After the accident, they learned about a "bizarre" Cuban law that
dictates any accident resulting in death or injury is treated as a crime
and the onus is on the driver to prove innocence.

"You're guilty until proven innocent," Danette said, adding Cody hasn't
been charged with anything.

Their travel agent, a Sunwing representative advised them Cody was not
allowed to leave the country. Three months later, Cody still doesn't
have a court date and he has no idea when one will be set.

His mother, who returned home briefly to get her financial affairs in
order and is now back in Cuba, has been paying $90 a day for his room
and meals at the resort.

The hotel, the extra airfares, rental cars, a Cuban lawyer and other
expenses have so far cost the single mom $30,000.

"That's money we don't have," Danette said, explaining she and the
cousin have maxed out all of their credit cards and they are afraid they
will soon be living on the street.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government has been sitting on its hands waiting
for Cuba's wheels of justice to slowly turn.

"The Canadian Government cannot interfere in the judicial process of a
foreign country, but Canadian consular officials are following the case
very closely with Cuban authorities," said Dana Cryderman, a Foreign
Affairs spokesman.

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