A Canadian-born U.S. citizen died under mysterious circumstances on the roof of Cuba’s famed Hotel Nacional, his mother alleged in Miami Friday.
“He went out the night of Nov. 21, saying he wanted to meet up with his cousin. The next morning, his bed was empty. I called the cousin and he said he had not seen my son,” Onelia Ross told el Nuevo Herald.
The body of Brandon Ross, 31, was cremated immediately by the Cuban government, preventing an independent autopsy, even though Canadian officials offered to help arrange its return home, Ross said.
Ross said she was born in Cuba and met her husband, a Canadian diplomat, when he served in Havana from 1974 to 1976. They live in Canada and Brandon was born in Ottawa but obtained U.S. citizenship after studying in the United States, she added.
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The mother said she and Brandon flew to Cuba on Nov. 17 for a vacation, his first-ever trip to the island, and rented rooms in a private home in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana not far from the Hotel Nacional.
On Nov. 21 mother and son walked around the seaside boulevard known as the Malecón, stopped at the hotel for a drink and then returned to the rooms, Ross said. Brandon then went out and she saw him again only when was asked to identify his body the next day.
Ross broke down crying and said she was too distraught to continue speaking with el Nuevo Herald, but confirmed details that she provided to the Telemundo51 TV channel in Miami, which first reported the case .
“We were very happy to be going (to Cuba), and everything turned into a nightmare,” she told Telemundo51 reporter Ernesto Morales.
When she identified the body, she told the TV station, “my son’s face was like he had been punched.” His left eye was swollen and almost black, his right eye was purple, she added. “His jaw was broken, and one of his teeth was broken.”
Cuban authorities told her that Ross was on the roof of the hotel when he slipped and fell about 20 feet, the mother told Telemundo51. They also said that he survived about 12 hours before dying from his injuries, the mother said.
Her son had mentioned that he wanted to take some photos from the roof of the hotel, she told the TV station. There was no explanation of how he could have reached the roof, which is not known to be open to the public.
Authorities also told her that her son died during the night but did not give her a copy of his autopsy, Ross added. The last photos on his camera — which she said showed no sign of any fall — were apparently taken as the sun rose.
Friends of the mother have told reporters that she believes Brandon was beaten to death but has not explained how she reached that suspicion.
“In that miserable country there are no laws,” she told the station.
The State Department Friday confirmed Brandon Ross’ death on Nov. 22 and said it was “providing all appropriate consular assistance” to his family but added that “out of respect for the privacy of those affected, we have no further comment.”
Beatrice Fenelon, spokesperson for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, confirmed a Canadian citizen died in Cuba but did not give his name and said Canadian consular officials in Havana have helped the family.
The consular officials also “have been in contact with local authorities,” Fenelon said, but further details of the case cannot be released “to protect the privacy of the individual concerned.”