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Explosions at 2 Havana hotels cause minor injuries

damage

Interior Ministry blames Americans

July 13, 1997
Web posted at: 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT)

HAVANA (CNN) -- At least three people were injured Saturday when two loud explosions, apparently caused by bombs, tore through the lobbies of two Havana hotels that cater to international tourists.

None of the injuries was believed to be serious.

The explosion at the Hotel Capri took place about 11:25 a.m. (1525 GMT), shattering street-level windows. Five minutes later, another explosion rocked the lobby of the Hotel Nacional, the city's most prestigious hotel.

As he left Hotel Capri, Cuban Tourism Minister Osmany Cienfuegos said, "Obviously, this was done by our enemies." He did not elaborate.

Cuban TV quoted the Interior Ministry as saying it had evidence that the people responsible for exploding two devices were from the United States. The brief statement gave no further details.

Police prevented reporters from trying to enter the hotels, but dozens of curious passers-by gathered in the streets surrounding them. Plainclothes security officials tried to stop cameramen from non-Cuban news organizations from filming the scenes.

Interior Ministry blames Americans

Cuban TV quoted the Interior Ministry as saying it had evidence that the people responsible for exploding two devices were from the United States. The brief statement gave no further details.

There are reports of previous attacks

Hotels catering to international tourists are vital to the Cuban economy, because they provide a major source of hard currency for President Fidel Castro's Communist government.

In a sign of how seriously the government is taking the possible threat to the industry, a parade of high-level government officials, including Vice President Carlos Lage, visited the Capri and Nacional hotels after the blasts.

There have been reports of other attacks on tourism-related buildings, presumably by Castro opponents who want to discourage visitors from traveling to the Caribbean nation and giving the Castro government an economic boost.

In 1991, an anti-Castro exile group based in Miami claimed responsibility for a machine-gun attack on a hotel at the beach resort of Varadero.

In mid-April, there were reports that a small bomb exploded in a disco at Havana's Hotel Cohiba, causing damage but no injuries. The Cuban government neither confirmed nor denied those reports, but the Spanish company that manages the hotel attributed the explosion to faulty gas piping.

In June, the president of Cuba's parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, dismissed reports of bombings at tourist hotels in Cuba, saying they were disinformation being spread by anti-Castro forces to make Cuba appear unsafe for tourists.

Witness: Blast noise 'like an earthquake'

Ole Madsen, a Danish tourist who witnessed the explosion at the Hotel Nacional, said three people appeared to have been injured. The director of Havana's Calixto Garcia hospital, Armando Guerra, said two people -- one Cuban, one Jamaican -- were treated for cuts and released.

Madsen said the blast appeared to have ripped through a row of telephone booths in the hotel's lobby.

The explosive device at the Capri was believed to have been put in a couch in the lobby.

"We heard the explosion, and it felt like an earthquake," said Spanish tourist Carlos Alvarez, who was leaving his 11th-floor room when the blast occurred.

tourists

"We went down the stairs to the lobby, and there was a lot of smoke, a smell like gunpowder and a lot of confusion among the guests and employees," he added. "Everyone was crying."

French tourist Pascal Massiot said he is convinced the explosion was caused by a bomb. "There were a lot of people in a state of shock," he said.

Several tourists were seen checking out of the Capri after the explosion. Bomb-sniffing dogs were later seen entering the Hotel Nacional.

Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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