By CURT ANDERSON | Associated Press
(original title: Judge: Cuba must pay $27.5M for jailing journalist)
MIAMI — A federal judge ordered the Cuban government and the ruling Communist Party on Wednesday to pay $27.5 million in damages to the mother of a journalist jailed since a 2003 crackdown on dissent.
U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold ruled in the case of Omar Rodriguez Saludes, who is serving a 27-year sentence in Cuban prisons that the judge described as “deplorable and degrading” in his 13-page order.
“During his imprisonment, he has been beaten, starved, given poor food, placed in solitary confinement and deprived of medical treatment,” Gold wrote, quoting from allegations in the lawsuit. “I have no doubt that the acts of the Cuban government are intended to oppress those in Cuba who seek to freely voice their opinions.”
The judge said the family deserved to be compensated for “the intentional infliction of emotional distress” it has endured because of the son’s mistreatment by Cuba.
The lawsuit was filed under the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-U.S. citizens access to courts to challenge violations of international laws or treaties.
The ruling awards $25 million in punitive damages against the Cuban Communist Party and $2.5 million in compensatory damages against the government of President Raul Castro.
Attorney Pedro Martinez-Fraga, who represents the jailed journalist’s mother, said the case sets important legal precedents by finding the Cuban Communist Party is inseparable from the government and by issuing damages for the family of a living person.
“A very, very strong message is being sent about how Cuban damages are going to be awarded in the future in federal court, or any court,” Martinez-Fraga said.
Olivia Saludes, the mother who filed the lawsuit six years ago, did not immediately return a telephone message at her home in Monticello, Kentucky. Gold’s ruling said Cuban authorities have not permitted her Cuban-born son to call her and denied her visa applications.
No one representing Cuba ever responded to the lawsuit, leading Gold in 2008 to issue a default judgment. Officials at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington did not immediately respond to a telephone call and an e-mail seeking comment.
The Vienna-based International Press Institute, a group dedicated to press freedom and freedom of expression, reported in July that Rodriguez Saludes was serving the longest sentence of 22 independent journalists currently jailed in Cuba. The 2003 crackdown led to the arrests of 79 Cuban critics, pro-democracy activists and other dissidents, according to IPI.
There have been many similar judgments against Cuba over the years. Collecting damages, when it happens at all, can take years and many more court battles involving Cuban assets held by U.S. entities or overseas.
Saludes attorney Martinez-Fraga said one potential source is people in the U.S. who owe debts to Cuba.
“I am extremely optimistic about satisfying the judgment,” he said.