Should you get behind the wheel in Cuba? Should I?
The case of Cody LeCompte, the Canadian teenager held on the island after a collision until public pressure helped secure his (pending) release, should have us all thinking about the risks of renting a car there.
Canada's Foreign Affairs department, we know, has long advised against driving in Cuba, and several Cuba hands whose opinions I respect tell me they prefer to leave the driving to others when they visit the Caribbean nation.
Still, LeCompte's experience, as best I can tell, was rare. Despite widespread claims that such detentions happen regularly, only one other documented case emerged in all the attention that Cody's story received in the press and on sites such as Facebook. And that one was, well, complicated.
"Anne," an Eastern Ontario woman who didn't want her full name published, told the Ottawa Citizen she was held in Cuba for a full year after a February 2008 accident in which two Cubans were killed.
She had rented the car on the Varadero resort peninsula, but said a Cuban friend was driving when it left the pavement and rolled over several times, ejecting the two passengers who died. The friend, however, insisted to police that Anne had been behind the wheel.
By the time she was finally acquitted -- and again, it's not true that you are "presumed guilty" in Cuba until you can prove your innocence -- Anne was $40,000 in debt and had lost the hair salon she had operated from her home in Canada.
Cody's case was less serious. No one died. No one disputed who was driving. Forcing a visitor to remain for months for an investigation to unfold at the pace of a Cuban snail was unreasonable -- a point the Canadian government finally made to the Cuban authorities.
But as said, it was rare. That may not give much comfort to Cody and his family, but it should give others confidence that they can rent a car and drive in Cuba without major risk, especially if they take time to learn beforehand about its conditions and laws.
Which brings us to the CARISTAS 10 TIPS FOR DRIVING IN CUBA, revised in view of the recent events.