By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Herald Staff Writer
If a Spanish judge can order the arrest of former Chilean military ruler
Pinochet, why can't someone do the same to Cuban President Fidel Castro?
Can U.S. or international courts try Castro? And on what charges? Executing
thousands of opponents in the 1960s? Drowning 41 people aboard a tugboat?
Killing three U.S. citizens over the Florida Straits?
No one really knows the answers, but those questions have been sweeping
Miami's Cuban exiles almost from the time that Pinochet's arrest in London hit the
On Wednesday, eight congressional Republicans urged President Clinton to
Castro's arrest for killing three U.S. citizens and one legal resident in the 1996
shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue airplanes.
``We . . . urge you to instruct the attorney general to review current
Spanish courts to extradite Gen. Pinochet and take further steps to . . . bring to
justice the Cuban dictator, said a letter signed by the three Cuban Americans and
five other members of the House of Representatives.
Junta Patriotica Cubana, an alliance of exile groups in Miami, was meeting
Wednesday evening to consider the possibility of bringing charges against Castro
for human rights violations.
But this is not a new issue for Cuban exiles.
Miami businessman Gustavo Villoldo launched just such a project seven months
ago and has quietly raised $32,000 and contacted legal experts in London and the
Netherlands, seat of the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
``We are not interested in sensation or propaganda. We want to bring him
in a legal process, said Villoldo, a former CIA agent who helped track down
Cuban-Argentine guerrilla Ernesto ``Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967.
`Worst of the worst'
Villoldo has called on Miami radio and television for exiles to contribute
memories and documentation on Castro's worst human rights violations, and has
narrowed his field to about 56 -- ``the worst of the worst.
The mass execution, without trials, of about 40 anti-Castro guerrillas
Cuba's Escambray Mountains in the 1960s.
The 1959 executions of 32 air force personnel who had served the former
Batista regime. A judge had found them innocent, but Castro personally ordered a
new trial and acted as prosecutor.
The 1994 drowning of 41 men, women and children when Cuban chase boats
rammed a tugboat as the group tried to escape the island.
The most promising charge may be the Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down,
case in which a federal judge in Miami awarded $187 million last December to
victims' relatives who filed a civil suit under a 1996 anti-terrorism law.
Criminal charges against Castro in this case are also possible because
of U.S. and
international laws on hijacking and sabotaging airplanes, said Christopher
Blakesley, a war crimes expert at Louisiana State University.
U.S. Attorney Tom Scott has been studying whether to file criminal charges
case since 1996 but has not made a decision. Scott could not be reached for
``I don't know why these things can't be done, except for diplomatic or
reasons, said Bob Martinez, a former U.S. attorney who represented the relatives
in the Brothers civil suit.
Castro pointed out the complexity of the issue when journalists asked him
Pinochet during a brief visit to Spain Tuesday.
``From the moral aspect it is something that is just, he said. ``From the
it's questionable, and from the political aspect it's going to create a complicated
situation in Chile, Castro said.
Legally muddled case
Castro's case is likely to be even more legally muddled, said Blakesley
Christine Corcos, assistant law professor and supervisor of a war crime trials
documents center maintained by the LSU law school.
``The two cases [Pinochet and Castro] may look similar but they really
The judge in Spain who ordered Pinochet's arrest claims jurisdiction because
Chilean government officers are accused of murdering about 80 Spaniards during
his 1973-90 regime, Corcos said. And Spain can seek his arrest in Britain because
the two nations have an extradition treaty that covers human rights crimes.
But Cuba certainly would not extradite Castro to the United States, Corcos
added, and he generally travels only to friendly countries unlikely to heed a U.S.
request for his arrest or extradition.
Only governments can file charges before any international court, and the
in the Netherlands now hearing war crimes cases from the former Yugoslavia was
established under a specific vote at the United Nations.
The charge of genocide requires evidence ``of an intent to destroy in whole
part a group because of its ethnicity, race or religion, said Blakesley, and does not
mention the killing of political opponents.
Crimes against humanity are considered easier to prosecute -- torture and
executions of political foes -- but it is more difficult to extradite the accused,
As for Castro, he says he's not worried.
``I am not afraid to go anywhere, he told reporters in Spain. ``I come
lineage that would be difficult to arrest anywhere, not only because of morality but
because of my entire life's history.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald