Miami judge awards Cuban exile $2.8 billion

AP News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2011 4:45 PM
Miami judge awards Cuban exile $2.8 billion

A Miami judge has awarded a Cuban exile $2.8 billion in damages for the forced suicide of his father after Fidel Castro took power during the communist revolution in 1959. The man's attorney said it is the largest U.S. civil judgment ever against Cuba, though it's unlikely they will collect much of it.

Cuba's government has flatly refused to pay similar damage awards in the past, leaving lawyers scrambling to find assets linked to Havana around the world they can attempt to seize.

Two years ago a different judge awarded Gustavo Villoldo more than $1 billion in damages for the death of his father, who had the same name.

The latest award comes under a different legal theory that also counts alleged efforts by Cuba to threaten and terrorize Villoldo _ a Bay of Pigs veteran and former CIA operative _ in the decades since Castro seized power.

In her ruling this week, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko found that Cuba's actions "rose to such a level of depravity" that they amounted to torture and that Cuba must pay billions of dollars in damages.

The father "was told repeatedly that he, his sons, and his wife would be killed, unless he acquiesced to the turnover of his property and took his own life," Butchko wrote.

Villoldo's attorney, Andrew Hall, said he will attempt to collect by tapping frozen Cuban assets in the U.S. and Cuban-linked businesses around the world. The Cuban government never responded to either lawsuit and has refused to comment on the case.

"This lawsuit is far more than an esoteric exercise to send a message to the Cuban government," Hall said. "One way or another, Cuba will pay for the pain caused to Gustavo and his family."

U.S. courts have issued a number of similar judgments against Cuba over killings, imprisonment and confiscation of property. Some people have collected sizable amounts by going after bank accounts and similar assets, but others have managed to find very little.

Villoldo's father owned a large General Motors dealership, a 33,000-acre ranch and other real estate, a gas station and other assets before the Castro-led revolution. After Castro took power, wealthy families such as his were frequently targeted for arrest, torture and killings and their holdings were confiscated.

The younger Villoldo and his brother fled to the U.S., where Villoldo trained with the Army and took part with other exiles in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. He later worked with the CIA, where he helped track down Castro lieutenant Ernesto "Che" Guevara in 1967 in Bolivia.

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