Cuba-Curacao slavery lawsuit lacks facts
Front page / World
05/25/2007 01:10 Source: AP ©
A federal judge needs more facts before deciding whether U.S. courts
have jurisdiction over a lawsuit from three Cuban men, who were forced
by Havana's communist government into virtual slavery to pay off a debt
to a Curacao shipbuilding company.
Among the key issues is whether the arrangement was intended to
circumvent the U.S. economic embargo by allowing Cuba to profit from
work done in Curacao on American cruise and merchant vessels, Senior
U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King said.
"That is one of the primary problems I'm having," King said at a
hearing. "I believe that I'd be more comfortable if the record were
developed more fully."
King postponed ruling on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by
Curacao Drydock Co. to give lawyers for the three Cuban men time to
collect more evidence.
Curacao is a self-governing Dutch island in the Lesser Antilles off
The three Cuban men, who all now live in Florida – Alberto Justo
Rodriguez, Fernando Alonso Hernandez and Luis Alberto Casanova – claim
they were among hundreds of men forced by Cuba to work at Curacao
Drydock and threatened with prison or worse if they refused.
They say they worked 112-hour weeks at hard labor, were watched by armed
Cuban guards and were forced to watch videotapes of long speeches by
Cuban President Fidel Castro.
The arrangement was Cuba's way of paying off a debt for a drydock
installation the company had built some years earlier near Havana,
The Cuban Interests Section, which represents the Castro government in
Washington, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Curacao Drydock attorney Stephanie Traband called the claims "wild
allegations" and insisted the company had a legitimate labor contract
with Cuba that had little connection to the United States and no intent
to skirt the U.S. embargo. She said U.S. interests account for about 10
percent of the company's business.
"It is undisputed that the U.S. considers Cuba an enemy, but that is not
the case with the rest of the world," Traband said. "The rest of the
world does business with Cuba."
But Seth Miles, one of the Cuban plaintiffs' lawyers, said even the 10
percent figure could mean "tens of millions of dollars" in U.S. business
for Curacao Drydock. He noted that the company has filed lawsuits in
U.S. federal courts seven previous times seeking relief for various
claims of its own.
"They can't have it both ways. They are engaged to a very high degree,"