HAVANA TIMES — On the night of Friday, January 29, Cuba’s Educational Channel aired an episode of the police series Tras la huella (“Chasing Clues”) titled “Tarara.” Not two minutes had gone by before my mother and I realized it was a dramatization of an incident that shook the country in 1992.
On January 9 that year, some individuals entered the Tarara ferry terminal to hijack a speedboat and leave the country illegally. In the attempt, they murdered a coast guard named Orosman Dueñas Valero, police sergeant Yuri Gomez Reinoso and custodian Rafael Guevara Borges. They had surprised, beat and disarmed the three men. After they had tied them up, they shot them. On hearing the shots, another police officer, Sergeant Rolando Perez Quintosa approached the site and was seriously wounded.
Of the four names, the last had become imprinted in my mind. He had been the only survivor and fought for his life for a month. I heard the news of his passing while at a countryside boarding school. I dare say all Cubans, no matter what their political sympathies and degree of frustration with the government, followed the news about his condition. The culprits were captured by the police within 48 hours. People on the street said that was the best thing that could have happened to them. “Had people ran into them, they would have been lynched.”
It had been an unwarranted massacre, despite the despair of Cubans in the 1990s and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which our leaders and official media made responsible for the crime. In Tarara, we see stock footage of our president of the time, the eternal leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro, saying that, had those individuals achieved their objective, they would have been welcomed as heroes in Miami.
According to the show’s episode, that was also what the character played by Rafael Laera, the man mostly responsible for the murders, had hoped for, to reach the United States with something to show for, to have a record of struggle against the regime. For the other men involved, leaving was merely a way to escape from the country’s dire situation, to look for a future elsewhere, like most Cubans who risk their lives at sea. For this particular character, it was mostly a means of evading justice.
I didn’t remember this detail, or perhaps people weren’t informed of it at the time, but, when the police arrived, as depicted in the show, Perez Quintosa was able to identify the killer, saying: “It was the rapist.” One of the employees there explained that, shortly before the incident, they had fired a worker for raping a young woman, and that he had been awaiting trial. My mother and I had the exact same reaction when we saw this. “How could they leave a rapist out and about to await trial?”
As the episode unfolded and I saw this character lead the group, how he’d been the first to shoot the people they had tied up and forced his accomplice to finish one of the victims off, I wondered whether things had been different had the alleged rapist awaiting trial had been in jail.
This was a mistake which logic dictates should not be repeated. More than twenty years later, however, I find myself writing about another man accused of rape awaiting trial…who’s free. These two stories differ in an important detail: the character played by Rafael Laera in Tarara didn’t have a criminal record. This other person does have a record and was even in prison before…for rape.
What could be the consequences of having an allegedly repeat rapist await trial outside of jail? Precisely what took place: while this individual was awaiting trial outside of prison, he attempted to rape another person, a minor this time around.
Could it be that everyone accused of a crime in our country awaits trial outside of jail? No. The best example of this, ironically, is afforded by a close relative of this same individual. This relative of his was accused of embezzlement and misappropriating government resources and awaited trial at home for only a few weeks. Apparently, the authorities feared she would leave the country without paying for her crime (a crime they hadn’t yet proven) and they put her in jail. She was in prison for more than six months before her trial.
She was lucky. A young man I know was accused of bribery in a scam case. He was in prison for an entire year without trial.
Could it be our government fears that someone guilty (or presumably guilty) of a financial crime will flee more than they fear a rapist will repeat his crime? Who is more likely to carry out an act of violence, someone who’s raped a person, or has at least been accused of this, or someone accused of embezzlement?
The death of the young men murdered in Tarara seems to answer this question. Isn’t a rapist the kind of criminal who should await trial in jail, as a means of protecting the public? This may not be fair if the person has no criminal record. There’s a small chance, perhaps, that the man who killed Perez Quintosa and the other young men was actually innocent of rape. Whether he was or not doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is that he committed a far more serious crime that cost four people their lives. Could this have been avoided? We’ll never know.
What are we to say, however, in the case of someone who does have a criminal record, for rape? Who will be held accountable if this individual, who already served time for his crime and is accused of a similar crime, rapes someone while awaiting trial…outside of prison?