Another driver does time in Cuba

Ted Barnett: 'Don't rent a moped or a car.'
   Add Ted Barnett to what seems to be an ever-lengthening list of Canadians held in Cuba following traffic accidents in which people were killed or injured.
   The 60-year-old from Winnipeg was prevented from leaving the island for six weeks after a scooter he was operating in Varadero (yes, the resort area I described as a safe place to drive) struck a Cuban pedestrian, breaking her leg. He finally arrived back in Canada last Sunday.
   Barnett's enforced stay matched that of Justine Davis, but was well short of the months-long detainments of Cody Lecompte and Damian Buksa. Other Canadians have reportedly been restricted from leaving Cuba for as long as a year while authorities conducted painfully slow investigations.
   These drivers aren't jailed, but must pay for food and accommodation. Barnett told CARISTAS he shelled out as much as $2,500 for his hotel and other expenses during his extended stay.
   And they can hardly enjoy their tropical surroundings as they contemplate the possibility of a trial in a Cuban court.
   "You think the worst possible thing is happening to you," Barnett told CBC Winnipeg from Cuba last month.
   Barnett wasn't charged, criminally or even with a traffic violation, but says he was required to give the victim "a bit of compensation."
   There's no way to know how many of the nearly three million yearly visitors to Cuba end up in Barnett's situation. Given, however, the number of cases we've heard of involving Canadians, and the long-standing warnings by governments in Canada and elsewhere about the risks of driving in Cuba, the total could be significant.
   For those who do find themselves detained, publicity could be the best ticket to a flight home. Davis was allowed to return to Toronto for her son's funeral after a social media campaign drew attention to her story, and Barnett's release came just days after the CBC report aired. Cuba, stubborn as it so often is, cannot afford to risk discouraging the tourism that is crucial to its economy.
   Barnett, meantime, has advice for travellers on how to avoid his experience.
   "Don't rent a moped or a car," he says. "One never knows what is going to happen."


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