Start of torture trial delayed
Defense attorney going to Cuba
BY LUISA YANEZ
The attorney for Eriberto Mederos, a Miami Cuban exile accused of lying about his role in the alleged torture of political prisoners in Fidel Castro's Cuba, plans to travel to the island in search of defense witnesses.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold granted David Rothman's request to postpone the trial until July 15, 2002, giving Rothman more time to make arrangements to visit the island, take depositions and locate documents for Mederos' trial. Rothman told the judge during a five-minute status hearing that he would seek permission from the Cuban government for the trip. Rothman said he would attempt to locate witnesses and paperwork to bolster Mederos' claim that he was only a hospital employee following medical orders.
Luis Fernández, spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., which grants visas to the island, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Mederos, 78, of Miami has been accused of giving opponents of the Castro government electric shock in the late 1960s and early 1970s while working as an orderly in Mazorra, a well-known psychiatric hospital near Havana. Mederos left Cuba for the United States in the early 1980s.
When he applied for U.S. citizenship, Mederos did not reveal his work at the hospital. He became a citizen in 1993. Mederos would have been denied citizenship had he admitted ever persecuting anyone.
Now, the question is the crux of the Miami federal prosecutors' case against Mederos for illegally obtaining citizenship. If convicted, Mederos could be stripped of his citizenship and possibly be deported -- if Cuba accepts him.
He also could face a five-year prison term and a $250,000 fine.
FREE ON BOND
Indicted in September, Mederos remains free on a $500,000 bond.
Mederos is one of the first Cuban Americans to face the threat of losing his citizenship because of allegations of torture under Castro's regime. The criminal case could set an important precedent. If Mederos' citizenship is revoked, others could suffer the same fate.
But Rothman said the prosecution's case against his client is weak.
"On paper, this case sounds provocative, but when the facts come out, there won't be much there,'' Rothman said last week.
Mederos' problems began some 10 years ago when he was recognized by a fellow Cuban American while working in a Hialeah nursing home. Eugenio de Sosa Chabau said Mederos is the man who tortured him with electric shock treatments when de Sosa was a political prisoner confined at the hospital near Havana.
Other former Cuban prisoners stepped forward to say that they, too, had been tortured by Mederos.
Their stories are contained in a 1991 book, The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba, published by Freedom House, a New York-based pro-democracy group, and in Of Human Rights, which follows rights issues in Cuba.
The tide turned against Mederos when immigration investigators began to take depositions from his accusers.
Patricia Mancha, spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Miami, said they are assisting the U.S. Attorney's Office in Mederos' prosecution.
Pressure has also come from Washington.
Two Cuban-born Republican House members, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, have pushed for prosecution.
"U.S. citizenship is a precious privilege which should not be bestowed lightly or unconditionally,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. ``The United States will uphold its legal and moral obligation to take a firm stand against such alleged torturers.''
Mederos has acknowledged that while working as an orderly at the hospital, he gave electroshock treatment to patients but denies it was torture.
Key in the case against Mederos is Richard Krieger, president of International Educational Missions, a Boynton Beach-based organization that attempts to exclude from this country any foreigners guilty of rights violations.
"Torture has been an international crime for decades,'' Krieger said.
Wire reports contributed to this story.