Bomb explodes at Havana's Copa

September 4, 1997

Shortly after 10:30 on the morning of September 4, 1997, a 27-year-old Salvadoran named Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon ambled into the lobby bar of the Copacabana Hotel in Havana’s Miramar embassy district and asked the bartender for a Bucanero. While he waited for his beer, Cruz Leon slipped into the washroom, removed a small explosive device from his backpack, set its timer, returned to the bar and placed it inside a metal ashtray standing beside the bar. After finishing his drink, he left the Copacabana and made his way down the block to the nearby Chateau Hotel.

An hour later, Fabio di Celmo came downstairs and into the lobby bar. The 32-year-old Montreal-based Italian-Canadian entrepreneur was staying in the Copacabana with his father while they attempted to negotiate some joint venture tourism deals with the Cuban government. On this day, he had arranged to meet a recently married Italian couple for lunch in the bar. At his suggestion, the couple, whom he’d known since childhood, had spent their honeymoon in Cuba and Di Celmo was anxious to hear how they’d enjoyed their stay.

Their drinks had just arrived when a sudden, violent explosion ripped through the hotel lobby, shattering bottles and glasses, destroying the furniture and blowing the hotel’s lobby windows, twisted frames and all, into the street. When the dust had settled, Fabio Di Clemo lay face down on the green-carpeted floor in a rapidly expanding pool of his own bright red blood. A metal shard from the ashtray had rocketed through the air and sliced open his throat, severing his carotid artery and killing him almost instantly.