US case highlights Cuban 'slaves' in Curaçao
A federal judge in Miami last month ordered a shipping firm to pay $80 million for conspiring with Cuba to abuse workers.
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"They faced the worst choice you can imagine: to continue being slaves not knowing if they would live or die because they were being treated so badly or to try to escape, knowing that even if they were successful it would be horrific for their families in Cuba," says Miami-based attorney Seth Miles, who represented the men. "Their kids have been kicked out of school, their relatives have lost their jobs, and neighborhood gangs harass their families."Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Castro's nephew, Manuel Bequer, was a senior manager of the shipyard at the time. He is still listed as the production manager on the company's website.
The company has denied many of the allegations, though they admitted that the Cuban workers' passports were seized and that their unpaid wages were deducted from the debt Havana owed the company. After failing to get the case thrown out on technical grounds, the firm fired their attorneys and abandoned the case.
Reached by telephone on Oct. 20 and informed of the judge's ruling, company spokesman Lennox Rhodes said to "call in an hour" for comment. He did not subsequently answer his telephone or respond to frequent phone and e-mail messages.
The company has also refused to respond to local media requests, according to Mike Willemse, editor of the Antilliaans Dagblad newspaper. "We understand that they will in no way pay the [damages] because they don't have it," he said. "It's simply not there."
A spokesperson for the Netherlands Ministry of Kingdom Affairs, Mireille Beentjes, said her government "has been concerned about the labor circumstances" at the shipyard and had "on several occasions expressed these concerns" to the Netherlands Antilles government.
Theirs is one of dozens of human rights cases tried in recent years under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign citizens to sue foreign officials and companies in US courts for serious violations of international law.
If the Curaçao Drydock Company ignores the judgment, they will find it hard to do business with US firms or the Miami-based cruise ship lines, Mr. Miles says. "Good corporate citizens generally don't do business with bad actors," he says. "They would not want to be associated with a company that not only employs slave labor, but ignores US court judgments."