Published December 12, 2016
A Miami judge delivered a shot across the bow in the direction of the Cuban government
The judge awarded more than $1 billion in damages against the Cuban government for the 1959 suicide of the father of a Cuban-American man who was involved in the CIA-backed capture and killing of revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Peter Adrien said he wanted to send a signal to Cuba's government with the huge damage award, which likely will prove difficult if not impossible to collect. But the attorney for Gustavo Villoldo, 76, and his younger brother, Alfredo, said his law firm would scour the globe for Cuban assets to satisfy the judgment.
"They finally get justice," said lawyer Jeremy Alters. "We will use every bit of our resources to collect this."
The award came in a lawsuit filed by Villoldo, who blamed Guevara, Fidel Castro and others for his father's 1959 suicide in Cuba. The family fled to the U.S. and Villoldo later took part in the CIA's Bay of Pigs invasion and was involved in catching Guevara in Bolivia.
Cuba's current government refused to respond to the lawsuit and offered no defense. It did not immediately reply to a request in Havana for comment.
Villoldo's father took his life by a sleeping pill overdose in February 1959, shortly after Fidel Castro, Guevara and the other communist revolutionaries seized power in Cuba. The elder Villoldo was a prominent Cuban businessman who also held U.S. citizenship and owned a major General Motors distributorship, a 33,000-acre ranch and several other holdings and properties.
The family was targeted soon after Castro took over as "lackeys of the United States and Yankee imperialists," according to the judge's ruling. The father was beaten, deprived of food, interrogated for days and repeatedly told he would be executed as a purported U.S. agent.
Soon after the man's release from jail, Guevara visited the elder Villoldo personally and forced him to choose either death by firing squad himself or the execution of his son, Alters said. He chose to die, then opted for suicide rather than giving Guevara and Castro the satisfaction of killing him.
"The undisputed evidence at trial established that defendants' conduct rose to such a level of depravity that they caused Mr. Villoldo to take his life, and their actions are properly classified as torture," Adrien said in a seven-page decision.
The younger Villoldo joined the U.S. military and CIA, taking part in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. A few years later, Villoldo was among a group hunting for Guevara, finally catching up with him in Bolivia in 1967. Guevara was subsequently executed and buried in Bolivia.
The lawsuit filed last year sought damages against the Cuban government, Fidel and Raúl Castro and Guevara for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Adrien was awarded nearly $1.2 billion: $393 million in economic damages suffered by the family, $393 million for pain and suffering, and $393 million in punitive damages.
The award dwarfs several other similar Cuban damage awards, including $400 million for the family of American Robert Fuller – executed in October 1960 – little of which has ever been paid
Some have fared better.
A New York federal judge in 2006 ordered payment of $91 million out of frozen Cuban accounts to the families of two men who died after the Bay of Pigs invasion, and in 2001 families collected $93 million from similar accounts for the 1996 downing of three Cuban exiles who flew Brothers to the Rescue planes that were shot down by Cuban MIG fighters.
Alters said any thaw in relations between Cuba and the U.S. should include satisfaction of judgments such as that awarded to Villoldos.
"They can't get away with torture and then expect to get back into the U.S. economy," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.