Basulto’s plane was the sole survivor of a Cuban Mig missile attack that killed four others.
By Madeline Baro Diaz
Posted January 22 2005
Jose Basulto, pilot of the only Brothers to Rescue plane to escape a Cuban MiG attack that left four men dead, has won a $1.7 million ruling against the Cuban government, far less than the $122 million he had sought.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra dismissed Basulto’s claims against most of the defendants, including Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and dismissed all but one of the counts in the case. The judge determined, however, that Basulto still suffers the effects of the 1996 incident in which Cuban military aircraft shot down the planes of his Brothers to the Rescue companions in international airspace and then chased Basulto’s plane for more than a half hour.
“[Basulto] justifiably continues to fear for his life,” Marra wrote in his ruling, dated Wednesday. “In his words, `I have a MiG on my tail for the rest of my life.’”
Basulto filed his federal suit in 2002 with the help of the watchdog group Judicial Watch. He heads Brothers to the Rescue, the group that became known in the early 1990s for their missions to spot and rescue Cuban rafters and drop leaflets over Cuba.
He asked for almost $76 million in compensatory damages and $46 million in punitive damages. Basulto had said he planned to use any monetary award in the case to help the internal opposition in Cuba.
“[The judgment] falls short of our objective to finance a substantial effort to promote democracy in Cuba,” Basulto said Friday.
Still, he called the ruling “another victory against the Cuban government for the damage that it has done to its people.”
Basulto is the latest South Floridian to win a judgment against the Cuban government in federal and state courts. As in the other cases, the Cuban government did not respond to Basulto’s suit and the judge issued a default judgment. The judge then heard testimony during a one-day trial in Fort Lauderdale federal court.
In 2001, President Clinton released $97 million in Cuban assets frozen in the United States to the families of three of the four Brothers to the Rescue pilots killed in the attack, satisfying part of their $187 million judgment against Cuba.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said attorneys with his organization will be “pursuing collection aggressively” for Basulto.
Fitton said attorneys had not determined whether to refile claims against Castro, his brother Raul Castro and the Cuban Air Force, all of whom the judge dismissed as defendants in the case because they were not properly served.
The Cuban government, however, was served through diplomatic channels, Fitton said.
The Cuban Interests Section could not be reached for comment Friday.