Posted on Sat, Oct. 28, 2006
Cuba accused of slavelike labor deal
Cuban shipyard workers say they were forced to work as modern slaves at
a Curacao ship repair company.
BY FRANCES ROBLES
The Cuban government conspired with a Curacao ship repair company to
provide practically slave labor fixing up vessels, including Miami-based
cruise ships, and kept workers under harsh conditions, a lawsuit filed
in U.S. District court in Miami alleges.
The civil suit filed before Judge James Lawrence King alleges that up to
100 Cuban shipyard workers are forced to work against their will at
Curacao Drydock Co., a ship repair company with an agent in Delray
Beach, Klattenberg Marine Associates.
The suit, filed by three workers who escaped and now live in Florida,
alleges they were ordered to work 16-hour shifts for $16 a month, a low
wage common in their native Cuba.
”We started work at 3 in the afternoon and kept working until 7 a.m.
the following day,” plaintiff Alberto Justo Rodríguez told The Miami
Herald. “We worked in the worst, most uncomfortable parts of the ship.
Where nobody wanted to go — that’s where they sent the Cubans.”
112 HOURS A WEEK
According to the suit, the men often worked 112 hours a week.
Their wage amounted to 3 ½ cents an hour.
The suit was filed two months ago and was first reported Friday by The
Rodríguez, a former shipyard worker in Cuba, was summoned to the
Ministry of Transportation in 2001 for a mandatory transfer to Curacao.
Upon arrival on the Caribbean island, he says, his passport was seized.
He and up to 100 other Cubans worked on a joint venture with the Cuban
government and Curacao Drydock, a company that does shipyard repair,
including work for U.S.-based cruise lines, oil companies and shipping
The joint venture between the Cuban government and Curacao Drydock has
Cuba providing the workers for the company, providing a source of cash
for the Cuban government, the suit alleges.
Curacao Drydock, the suit alleges, knew the Cuban workers were being
held against their will.
A written statement provided by Curacao Drydock attorney Matt Triggs to
The Miami Herald says many of the suit’s allegations are directed at the
”There are allegations, however, regarding the health and safety of our
employees that are of great concern to Curacao Drydock Co.,” the
statement said, stressing that the company has safety measures in place.
“Nevertheless, the company is undertaking a full investigation of the
The suit claims the men were forced to labor in sweltering weather and
dangerous conditions, like hanging from scaffolds. When Rodríguez broke
his foot and ankle in 2002 while scraping rust from the hull of a ship,
he was sent home to heal — and then ordered back after his recovery.
The suit claims plaintiff Luis Alberto Casanova once suffered an
electric shock but was forced to finish his shift despite bleeding from
The workers’ supervisors were other Cubans, including a nephew of Cuban
leader Fidel Castro, the suit alleges.
”They always told us if we didn’t work, they’d throw us out of the
country, fire us and send us to jail,” Rodríguez said. “Really, we
were slaves. We didn’t have a voice or a vote.”
On time off, Rodríguez said, they were forced to watch videos of
political speeches, marches and the Cuban government Mesa Redonda —
Round Table — TV news shows. He escaped in 2004 and now works odd jobs
The suit was filed by Miami Beach lawyer John Andres Thornton under the
Aliens Tort Act, which allows foreigners to file civil suits in U.S.
federal courts when an international law has been violated.
Curacao Drydock has asked the judge to dismiss the complaint for lack of
The suit seeks unspecified damages. No trial date has been set.
Co-plaintiffs Fernando Alonso Hernández worked in Curacao from 1995
until he fled in January 2005. He and the third plaintiff, Luis Alberto
Casanova, who worked in Curacao from 2002 until 2005, now work in
shipyards in Tampa.
One of the plaintiffs, Thornton said, now makes in an hour what he used
to get in a month.
Full text of the complaint: