Family seeks to avenge execution by suing Cuba
Three years ago, Bonnie Anderson trekked to the shabby graveyard in Pinar Del Rio, Cuba, where her father lay buried. His grave was gone.
That was just the latest in a series of outrages the Castro government committed against her family, Anderson says.
First, a Cuban firing squad shot her father, Howard F. Anderson, in 1961 after the government convicted him of smuggling arms to anti-Castro groups. Then the Castro regime refused to ship home his body. Then his remains were dug up and thrown out.
After 40 years of grief, her family is seeking redress in court: On Friday morning the Andersons filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against the Cuban government.
The suit -- one of a growing number against foreign governments that the United States says sponsor terrorism -- alleges the Castro government violated its own laws by prosecuting Anderson in a sham trial. The regime executed him for an offense that under Cuban law ordinarily carried a maximum of nine years in prison, the suit says.
That constituted a terrorist act, the suit asserts, and the Cuban government should pay Anderson's widow and her children damages.
The Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C., refused to comment Friday.
The Anti-Terrorism Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996 allows
victims to sue foreign countries for civil damages in U.S. courts. However,
the nations must be
classified by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism -- as Cuba is.
Legal experts say the Andersons can win. The Cuban government
most likely won't show up to defend itself, experts say, granting the Andersons
an automatic legal
``The trick is collecting the money,'' says Joel Perwin, an attorney who represented the relatives of three Brothers to the Rescue pilots shot down over international waters in 1996.
The relatives sued the Castro government in federal civil court in Miami. A judge eventually awarded them more than $90 million from funds frozen by the United States since the Cuban trade embargo in the early 1960s.
Whether the Andersons see such largess, the family says, is not the point.
``Whatever comes out of this,'' said Anderson's son, Gary, 55, ``I'll finally have a chance to stand up and say, `Fidel mato a mi papa' '' -- Fidel killed my father.
Howard Anderson moved his wife and, at the time, his only child to Cuba in 1947. He ran a small string of family-owned gas stations, factories and a Jeep distributorship there.
Tall and blond, Anderson was an avid fisherman. Sepia-toned photos show him in a small boat and frolicking on the beach with his young wife.
But their world began to unravel when Castro took power in 1959. The political atmosphere turned turbulent. Castro spewed hours of anti-American vitriol in marathon speeches.
Anderson temporarily moved his wife and four children to a Miami hotel. But he returned to Havana to tend to his businesses. In March 1961, military agents arrested him on charges of smuggling arms into Cuba.
His family later learned that he was indeed part of the anti-Castro struggle.
``He was not a paid CIA agent,'' Bonnie Anderson told the Herald in 1991. ``He did favors for the CIA. He carried messages back and forth. He brought in radios. Many people in the American colony down there were active in helping American intelligence gather information and also providing assistance to the underground.''
Anderson's two-day trial started on April 17. To his misfortune, the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion was launched the same day.
As the military tribunal detailed its accusations against Anderson,
air-raid sirens wailed in the background. Anti-aircraft guns boomed. With
the invasion underway,
anti-American hysteria seeped into the courtroom, according to trial transcripts and observer accounts.
``The prosecutor stood up on the table and shouted things like, `Death to the American!' '' Fernando Zulueta, the Andersons' attorney, says.
SENTENCED TO DEATH
Within hours the tribunal sentenced him to death.
As Anderson sat in his cell after the verdict, he penned a letter to his family.
``I find myself quite calm and find that I am not in the least afraid or nervous,'' he wrote. ``I hope and pray that you will forgive me for the troubles that I have caused you in the past and especially this present big one.''
Shortly before dawn on April 19, soldiers got him from his cell, led him outside and offered him a blindfold. He refused.
Those watching from the windows of nearby cells remembered hearing Anderson whistle as the firing squad took aim.
In the years since his death, his family has moved on. His widow remarried. His daughter, Bonnie, became a journalist -- writing a lengthy account for the Herald of her 1978 pilgrimage to her father's grave.
The city of Miami named a small street in Flagami as Howard F. Anderson Way.
But the wound his death caused his family has never quite healed. The lawsuit, the Anderson family says, is an attempt to address a grief they have been nursing for 40 years.
``It brings back memories . . .'' said his widow, Dorothy Anderson McCarthy, 79, of Pompano Beach, wiping away tears. ``I've waited a long time. I think we're finally getting justice.''