Friday, July 30, 2010

$30,000 and months later, Canadian able to leave Cuba

$30,000 and months later, Canadian able to leave Cuba
Teen stuck in Cuba to return Tuesday
Published On Thu Jul 29 2010
Liam Casey and Peter Edwards Staff Reporters

Canadian tourists should think twice before getting behind the wheel
during trips in Mexico, China, Guatemala and Cuba, the Foreign Affairs
Department warns.

"Canadians involved in traffic accidents may face serious legal
problems, including imprisonment," the department website says.

The caution comes as 19-year-old Cody LeCompte prepares to leave Cuba
after being detained since April 29. He is expected to return Tuesday to
a welcoming party planned by family and friends.

LeCompte, of Norfolk County, was detained by Cuban authorities after the
rental car he was driving collided with a truck on a pockmarked road
near rural Camaguey, sending himself, his mother, uncle and a female
Cuban friend to hospital.

LeCompte was never charged in the crash, but was forced to stay at the
Gran Club Santa Lucia in Cuba until the investigation was completed. The
family must now deal with a crushing debt of $30,000 that it spent on
lawyers, flights and hotel rooms.

"It doesn't feel real," LeCompte said from his hotel room in Cuba. "I
can't believe I've been here for three months for a car accident."

Similar sad fates could await tourists bold enough to rent vehicles in
Mexico, China and Guatemala. Foreign affairs warns Canadians involved in
traffic accidents shouldn't expect to be treated like they are innocent
until proven guilty.

"They could be taken into custody until responsibility for the accident
is determined and until all penalties are paid," the website warns. "If
you do not have Mexican liability insurance, you could be prevented from
leaving the country until all parties agree that adequate financial
satisfaction has been received."

LeCompte's treatment may have surprised his family, but it is not
uncommon. According to foreign affairs, 108 Canadians have been arrested
or detained in Cuba since 2005; about 10 per cent of the cases are

Currently, about 10 Canadians, including LeCompte, are being held there.
Last year, almost a million Canadians visited Cuba.

"Traffic accidents are a frequent cause of arrest and detention of
Canadians in Cuba," the website notes. "Accidents resulting in death or
injury are treated as crimes, and the onus is on the driver to prove

Canadians also shouldn't feel protected by insurance policies they take
out during their Cuban vacation.

"If the traveller is in any way at fault in an accident, rental agencies
will nullify coverage and seek damages to cover the cost of repairs,"
the website notes. "Contract agreements do not cover occasional drivers,
and the signatory is responsible for all people driving the vehicle.
Rental agencies are government-controlled and can prevent your departure
from the country unless payment is obtained."

LeCompte's mother, Danette, said Canadian officials will now help them
deal with their insurance policies, but adds they should have helped
resolve the ordeal much sooner.

"We needed their help from the beginning, not just this past week,"
Danette LeCompte said.

In some countries like Brazil, Canadians are warned about the drivers,
if not the laws.

"In Rio de Janeiro and in São Paulo, it is common to let motorists treat
red lights as stop signs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to
protect against holdups at intersections," the website continues.

Meanwhile, the LeComptes are excited for the big party when they return
Tuesday. Another family member was also exiled during this tribulation:
their big black Labrador retriever, Raven. She may even greet the family
at the airport.

LeCompte's mother is sure of one thing: "We will never come back to
Cuba." Unless, of course, LeCompte is finally charged.

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