For the Neighbors Sentenced to Prison for the Death of Three Girls, the Blame Belongs to the Cuban State

Current state of the home of the convicted, located at Vives 102, in Old Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2023 — The Supreme Court of Havana sentenced Adrian Frómeta González and his wife, Regla Isabel Rodríguez López, residents of Vives 102, between Águila and Revillagigedo, Old Havana, to seven years in prison for reckless homicide of the three girls who died after the collapse of a balcony of their building in January 2020. Both Frómeta and her family defend their innocence and insist that several state entities are trying to make them “take the blame.”

“During the investigation into the death of the three girls, my wife and I appeared as witnesses at the Picota station. A year later, when we were summoned for the second time in Criminal Investigation, we were already the accused,” Frómeta tells 14ymedio. He also made the trial documents available to this newspaper. “When we asked for explanations, all they told us was that during a Criminal Investigation meeting with the Secons Group – a state-owned specialized construction services company – and the Housing Directorate, we were pointed out as those responsible,” he emphasizes.

Alain Wilfrido Frómeta González and Abimael Peña Prado – brother and uncle of Frómeta, respectively – were also prosecuted and sentenced to six years for having renovated the structures of the second floor of the building, on which, according to the authorities, the stability of the balcony depended. Finally, the Court also sentenced Lesmer Chang Cárdenas, one of the builders of the Secons brigade, who helped the family carry out the repairs.

They are never going to blame each other, because ultimately they are all State agencies. They just decided to blame us and invented all that paperwork

“They are never going to blame each other, because ultimately they are all State agencies. They simply decided to blame us and invented all that paperworks that points to us being guilty of three homicides, when we did nothing,” Frómeta insists.

According to the minutes of the Provincial Court consulted by 14ymedio, signed on 14 September 2022, the authorities had decreed in 2019 the demolition of the second floor of the building due to the danger of collapse. In fact, the family that previously lived there left the house due to the poor condition it was in. A brigade of Secons – whose workers included Chang – was in charge of lowering the walls to a height of two meters and removing debris.

“These acts were taken advantage of by the accused Regla Isabel Rodríguez López,” alleges the document, “who with the objective of taking over said area and without any legal authorization (…) permanently closed access to said area with blocks and cement to the property from Vives Street and conditioned (sic) it from inside her house to ensure that she was the owner of said area.” The text also states that Rodríguez was fined 500 pesos for blocking access to the second floor.

Interior damage suffered by the ground floor of the house due to the works that Secons carried out above it. (Courtesy)

Together with Frómeta, her brother, her uncle and the worker Chang – who, the document clarifies that he, “worked in a personal capacity” and not as an employee of the Secons – the woman asked for the demolition of some load-bearing walls, including the one that made counterweight to the balcony, which ended up collapsing, the minutes state. In Chang’s case, the Prosecutor’s Office indicated that he was “of interest to the police” due to having a criminal record of robbery with violence or intimidation, and injuries.

The result of the first trial was a sentence of 12 years for Rodríguez and 10 for the rest of those involved. They were also ordered to pay compensation of several thousand pesos to the families of the deceased girls, in addition to provisional house arrest or a bail of 5,000 pesos.

After the appearance before the Provincial Court and the negotiation of the sentences with the authorities – which were reduced to seven and five years – the four residents of Vives 102 filed an appeal, requesting a review of the sentence, but the The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and did not reduce the prison time.

“The accused acted without foreseeing the possibility of this result occurring, even though they should have foreseen it. Therefore, they are criminally responsible,” the document states.

The people who lived above were even given a subsidy to repair the house, but they never did anything. There were also no inspectors to check whether they were using the subsidy correctly.

“Now we are just waiting for them to call us and tell us that we have to surrender. There is no longer a solution, the Supreme Court’s decision is final and cannot be appealed again,” laments Frómeta.

According to the man, his wife, the owner of the first floor of the property – originally two floors – had been requesting help from the municipal and provincial Housing authorities since at least 2014 due to the poor condition of the second floor, which affected her home. “The people who lived up there were even given a subsidy to repair the house, but they never did anything. There were also no inspectors to check whether they were using the subsidy correctly,” he recalls.

“When they finally decreed the demolition, they brought in a brigade of Secons who lowered the walls and knocked down the roof, but they left the balconies and eaves. There was also no supervision of that work, and they did what they wanted,” he emphasizes. “For a time they even stopped work to help with city construction for the 500th anniversary of Havana. One day they were taken near the Calixto García hospital without even leaving signs that the second floor was being demolished,” he adds.

The dwelling after the balcony collapse. One of the victims died instantly, while the other two died in the hospital.  (14ymedio)

With the disappearance of the second floor, Rodríguez’s house began to leak and, together with her husband and her family, they decided to “pour a melt” (cement mixture) on the floor of the house above to cover the holes.

“That was the only thing we did. We did not knock down any walls and they have no evidence either. But if we are the culprits they are freed from responsibility and from having to compensate the girls’ families,” says Frómeta.

When asked if he believes that the relatives of the three girls crushed by the balcony in 2020 — María Karla Fuentes, Lisnavy Valdés Rodríguez and Rocío García Nápoles, all aged 11 — trust the courts’ version, Frómeta says he is not sure. “They are the sufferers, and they need someone to blame,” he acknowledges.


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