Field Notes 1: Livio Di Celmo remembers

I was in Montreal recently to interview Livio Di Celmo, the brother of Fabio, a 32-year-old Italian-Canadian who was killed in a September 4, 1997 bombing that was part of a larger terrorist campaign anti-Castro militants were then waging against Cuban tourism.

The alleged mastermind of that campaign—as well as the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people—is a man named Luis Posada Carriles who “still walks the streets of Miami, a free man.”

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Fabio Di Celmo

During the five years since their first visit to the island in 1992, Fabio and his father Giustino had become familiar visitors to Havana as they worked to drum up business for their import-export company. Rime S.A. had been involved in everything from renovating the city’s iconic Hotel Nacional to sourcing sewing needles for Cuban sewing machines.

That day in September 1997, after a round of morning sales meetings with state authorities, Fabio and Giustino had returned to the Copacabana hotel. Fabio was to meet there for lunch with some Italian friends who’d been honeymooning in Cuba—at Fabio’s suggestion.

Fabio had clearly become more and more enamoured with Cuba. While not particularly interested in politics as a child growing up in Italy and Canada, he’d recently developed such an obsession with the speeches of Fidel Castro his friends would tease him about it. It began after he happened to see Castro deliver one of his famously spellbinding three-hour orations. Fabio told friends he’d never heard anyone speak so passionately about anything. After that, he’d read every Fidel Castro speech he could find, and had even begun to read books of Cuban history. And, of course, to recommend Cuba as a tourist destination to all his friends.

He was with two of them—the honeymooners Enrico and Francesca—in the Copacabana’s lobby bar shortly after 11:30 when a powerful bomb, planted in a standing ashtray, exploded, shattering windows, twisting metal window frames and destroying furniture. Fabio’s throat was slit by a flying piece of shrapnel. He died almost instantly.

It wasn’t lost on either Livio or me that we were getting together to talk about Fabio within days of what would have been Fabio’s 45th birthday.

Livio remembered speaking with his younger brother just two days before his death.

Fabio, who’d begun to emerge from the shadow of his super-salesman father, had just finalized the first two contracts he’d negotiated completely on his own. He was very proud, Livio recalls. In fact, Fabio encouraged Livio—who was then living in Montreal and had just lost his own job with a Canadian airline—to abandon his life as “an office rat” and come work with him in Cuba.

“We’ll have fun together,” he’d said.

Instead, two days later, Livio received the call from his father that told him his brother had been killed.


Ironically, though he had no proof at the time—that would come later—Livio knew instinctively who was responsible for what had happened to his brother:


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  1. Of course, nobody should be happy for the death of a young man. But the worst terrorists in Cuba are Fidel Castro and his accomplices. Castro had been drowning in poverty the country at that time (1997) for almost 40 years, killing physically tens of thounsands but biographically millions. Castro did not allow Cubans to run business in their own country in order not to be politically challenged by any economically succesful national, but allowed foreign people to profit from the business opportunities denied to the Cubans, as they were not politically dangerous. This italian familly was profiting from goverment contracts that were forbidden to Cubans. Profiting from their solvency in a country empoverish by the goverment they expressly supported -and continue to support-, taking advantage of all the chances denied to the national. For example, women, who naturally prefer a resourceful ‘yuma’ than a ‘muerto de hambre’ Cuban. For example, the stay in a hotel, something denied for a lot of years, including at that time there, to nationals. Of course, if somebody was to be killed by a bomb in a Cuban hotel that day most likely it would not be a Cuban. The bomb was placed supposedly by a Cuban in a Cuban hotel in Cuba not with the intention of killing people, but to scare tourism away from the island, in order to cut the resources the government gets from it to keep on oppresing the country. In the fight against Batista, the civic resistance probably caused the unintended death of foreign persons, who most probably were not supporting Batista. In 1997 the civic resistance against Castro put this bomb not in Italy or in Montreal, but in Havana and unintendenly killed an italian who was by chance a supporter of the government. What are supposed to do Cubans? Stop fighting against their dicatorship in order foreign people to enjoy peacefully the advantages of the country forbidden for the dictators to its people? To adapt its fight to the conveniences or preferences of foreign people, supporting the dictatorship? Fabio di Celmo knew pefectly well that he was enjoying advantages forbidden to nationals; he should have known that Cubans, as human beings -and not stones- could react to this situation. They, for once, did. And in my opinión, they should have done it not once, but as many times as necessary.


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