The Miami Herald
March 19, 2001

Effort to warn JFK turned into nightmare

Cuban recalls shock therapy


 Eugenio de Sosa Chabau, scion of one of Cuba's oldest families, went to school with John F. Kennedy in the 1930s, owned a prosperous sugar mill, directed
 Havana's leading newspaper before Fidel Castro took power -- and, he says, even tried to warn the U.S. president about Soviet missiles in Cuba.

 The retired businessman, now living in Coral Gables, was severely punished for his anti-Castro sentiments, spending almost 21 years in Cuban jails as a political

 Now, two decades after being freed, de Sosa Chabau, 84, is once again remembering the horrors of his imprisonment -- particularly the nine months he spent in
 Havana's psychiatric hospital where he underwent 14 sessions of electroshock treatment.

 And the nurse who gave de Sosa Chabau the electroshock treatment -- Heriberto Mederos -- has become a prime target of International Educational Missions, a
 Boynton Beach-based human rights organization pressuring the U.S. government to deport former foreign officials accused of torture.

 "He applied the electroshock after soaking the electrodes in water to heighten their power,'' de Sosa Chabau recalled during interviews last week.

 "He was always very serious when he applied the electroshock on people who then kicked and writhed on the floor. He gave me 14 electroshocks, 10 in the
 testicles and four on the head.''


 Mederos has acknowledged using electroshock on patients -- but denied allegations of torture, saying he was following doctors' instructions. De Sosa Chabau and
 other former hospital inmates have called the treatment torture.

 Richard Krieger, president of the International Educational Missions, wants the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to review Mederos' case and strip him
 of his U.S. citizenship. Besides Mederos, Krieger's group is also targeting several other alleged torturers, including José Guillermo García, a former defense minister
 in El Salvador, and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, a former Salvadoran National Guard chief. Krieger wants García and Vides Casanova deported. Their
 attorney, Kurt R. Klaus, says his clients are innocent.

 Patricia Mancha, an INS spokeswoman, said her agency could not comment on Mederos' immigration status. But a person familiar with the case said federal
 investigators are reviewing Mederos' file.

 Mederos could not be reached for comment, but is believed to be living in Miami-Dade.

 A woman who answered the door at an address listed in public records west of Miami International Airport said Mederos had moved out five or six months ago.
 She said she did not know his new address.

 While de Sosa Chabau was initially jailed for plotting against Castro when he was arrested on his yacht in late 1959, he said he was transferred to the psychiatric
 hospital after Cuban officials learned he had smuggled out a note with a warning to Kennedy that Moscow had shipped missiles to the island.

 Kennedy and de Sosa Chabau were classmates in the exclusive, then all-boys prep school Choate -- now Choate Rosemary Hall -- in Wallingford, Conn. Susanne
 Jordan, Choate's director of alumni and parent relations, said de Sosa Chabau and Kennedy were among the 112 members of the class of 1935.

 De Sosa Chabau, who went on to become director of the daily Diario de la Marina in the 1940s, went to Choate because his family was wealthy and wanted the
 young man educated at elite schools abroad.

 De Sosa Chabau said his school connection eventually grew into a friendship with Kennedy that lasted from prep school to the late 1950s, just before he was


 As Castro's rebels scored victories in their guerrilla war against President Fulgencio Batista, de Sosa Chabau recalled, Kennedy became intrigued by the unfolding
 civil war in Cuba.

 "One weekend Jack called me in Havana and asked me to fly up for a weekend,'' de Sosa Chabau said. "He wanted to know about Castro. I told him Castro
 was a communist.''

 That conversation with Kennedy, sometime in 1958 at the Kennedy family home in Palm Beach, according to de Sosa Chabau, was the last time the Choate
 classmates saw each other.

 In December 1959, Cuban government intelligence agents swooped down on de Sosa Chabau's yacht in the Cuban resort of Varadero and arrested him for
 allegedly planning a coup against Castro.

 The arrest turned de Sosa Chabau into a political prisoner for almost 21 years.


 After spending time at various jails in and around Havana, the government confined him to a prison at the Isle of Pines just off Cuba's southern coast.

 It was there that one night sometime before the 1962 missile crisis, an incident occurred, de Sosa Chabau said, that allegedly enabled him to get an early hint
 Moscow had shipped -- or was planning to ship -- missiles to Cuba.

 A Cuban military officer confined to the jail for one night as punishment for being drunk, de Sosa Chabau said, unwittingly gave him the information while boasting
 Cuba was acquiring missiles that could wipe out any U.S. city. The officer shared the information because de Sosa Chabau protected him from other prisoners after
 recognizing the officer as a former employee at his sugar mill, de Sosa Chabau said.

 De Sosa Chabau said he immediately wrote the information down in a letter that he addressed to Kennedy. He said he then wrapped the note tightly inside a
 prison-made cigar and gave it to his son-in-law the next time he and his wife Sylvia -- de Sosa Chabau's daughter -- came to visit.

 "I told them very quietly to give the letter to my U.S. contact in Havana as soon as they returned,'' he said.

 Alberto Jorge, 58, de Sosa Chabau's son-in-law, said he delivered the cigar a few days later to a U.S. citizen in Havana whose name he did not remember.

 While it's unclear whether the letter ever reached the United States, it was not the only warning from inside Cuba that the United States received about the Soviet
 deployment before Kennedy disclosed the presence of the missiles in October 1962. According to CIA records declassified in the early 1990s, the United States
 received several such reports from sources inside Cuba months before the crisis.

 De Sosa Chabau is convinced he was punished for leaking the information.

 The electroshock sessions took place at dawn, he said.

 "Mederos arrived wearing an olive green uniform followed by four or five hospital inmates who carried two buckets filled with water and the electrodes,'' de Sosa
 Chabau recalled.

 "Then Mederos would read names from a list he carried and if you heard your name you ran to lie down on the floor and await your turn. When your turn came,
 Mederos would wet the electrodes in the water buckets and then apply them to your head.''

 De Sosa Chabau said the shock of electricity felt like ``an explosion inside your head'' that knocked him unconscious for minutes and left him weakened for hours.
 "It was like thunder radiating to the rest of your body,'' he said.

 Then, de Sosa Chabau said, hospital staff interrogated him: ``How did you smuggle out the counterrevolutionary information to the United States?'' He said he
 always lied, saying he did not know what his interrogators were talking about.

 He said he was transferred back to a regular prison in the late 1970s when Cuba was trying to improve relations with the United States. Shortly after, he was freed.
 In January 1980, he flew to Miami.

 Today, De Sosa Chabau lives in retirement in an apartment in Coral Gables surrounded by pictures of his family, including 28 grandchildren and 39

 "I've been lucky because I survived,'' he said. "Many others did not.''

                                    © 2001