Don't take the wheel – or the tiller

Toufik Benhamiche tours Havana before the boating accident. Facebook photo

AS LONG noted here, visitors should think twice about driving a car in Cuba. Get into an accident and you could find yourself trapped on the island for months of judicial process – followed, perhaps, by a jail sentence.

This advice applies to more than cars.

Toufik Benhamiche, a 47-year-old Montrealer, has been unable to leave Cuba since a July 2017 boating accident in which a fellow Canadian tourist was killed.

This week, Benhamiche learned he must remain on the island for at least another year fighting a criminal negligence conviction that if upheld could see him jailed for a further four years.

A statement released by his family on Dec. 26 said Benhamiche was convicted a second time by the provincial court of Ciego de Avila after Cuba's Supreme Court overturned an initial finding of guilt. Benhamiche, living in a rented apartment, is launching a new appeal while calling on the government of Canada to press Cuba to grant him an exit visa so he can rejoin his wife and two daughters in the Montreal suburb of Mascouche.

The family was nearing the end of a one-week vacation in Cayo Coco when it signed up for an "adventure tour" that is a common excursion in the tourist region.

Benhamiche had never driven a boat but said he was told it was easy. Moments after they were underway, however, the boar veered back to the wharf and flew in the air. Jennifer Ann Marie Innis, a 33-year-old mother of three from Woodstock, Ont., was struck by the propeller and died.

Barred from working or living with his family, Benhamiche can only count the passing days, his wife, Kahina Bensaadi, told Montreal's LaPresse earlier this year.

"To keep him still means to sentence him to prison."



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