In 1977, Rafael Del Pino, an American citizen and Army veteran, was executed by hanging by the Cuban Government. He was murdered for his belief and faith in a democratic Cuba and his opposition to Fidel Castro’s dictatorship.
Born in Cuba, Rafael was a strong supporter of democracy. As a young man, he befriended Fidel Castro, but the two men parted ways as it became clear that Castro, far from a democratic idealist, was an iron-fisted communist that intended to impose Soviet-style rule on Cuba. Rafael learned Fidel Castro had no desire to reform Cuba into a free democracy. Rather, Castro wanted to rule Cuba. After the two men fell out, Rafael fled to the United States, where he proudly served in the Army and became an American citizen in 1950. After serving in the U.S. Army, Rafael started his family with his wife Delysis. They had two children – a daughter, Milagros, and a son, Rafael Jr. – both born in the United States.
In 1959, an agent for the Castro regime lured Rafael to Cuba, convincing him to fly back to pick up and save family members and citizens from being imprisoned for their political beliefs. At profound personal risk, Rafael bravely flew a small plane and landed on la via Blanca, a street outside of Havana to rescue his family. The Cuban military was waiting for him. He was promptly shot and arrested. After a sham trial, Rafael was sentenced to 30 years in a Cuban jail. The Castro regime subjected Rafael to brutal physical and mental torture while he was in prison. Rafael’s torture, abuse and anguish lasted for over 17 years, until he was executed by the Castro regime in 1977.
Milagros and Rafael Jr. grew up without their father. Milagros, born in 1959, never spoke to him in person, receiving only the sporadic letters that Rafael could write his daughter from prison. Milagros and her brother would speak to their father twice a year by phone, August 12th and November 27th – on their birthdays. During Rafael’s confinement, Cuba occasionally released other prisoners and permitted them to return to the United States. On many occasions the Castro regime would suggest that Rafael would be included on these flights and returned to his family. His family would go to the Miami airport to meet flights carrying released Cuban prisoners hoping that they would be reunited with their father. Fidel Castro made sure that Rafael never returned.
Rafael Jr. passed away in 2014 without ever seeing justice for his father’s torture and murder. Milagros continues to honor her father and seeks to hold the Castro regime responsible for their atrocities. One day, she hopes to find her father’s unmarked grave in Cuba so that she may pray and let him know he can rest in peace.
THE LAW ON HOLDING CASTRO RESPONSIBLE
Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), a foreign government designated as a state-sponsor of terrorism can be held liable in a state or federal court for torturing or killing a United States citizen. In 2008, a jury awarded Milagros and Rafael Jr. $252 million in damages against the Castro regime (now worth over $458 million with interest) under the FSIA for the torture and murder of their father, Rafael.
The Cuban Asset Control Regulation (CACR), implemented in 1963 after President Kennedy imposed the embargo on Cuba, allowed a victim or family member who won a judgment against the Castro regime to recover their damages from regime-owned assets in banking institutions. However, the Castro regime has systematically evaded responsibility for the judgments against it by moving significant assets through the global financial system in a manner that circumvents the CACR and other applicable laws. For example, BNP Paribas, France’s largest bank, admitted in July 2014 that it had helped countries such as Cuba avoid regulations designed to, among other things, secure funds to satisfy judgments against those countries. Although BNP agreed to pay an $8.9 billion fine, none of those funds have yet been allocated to satisfy outstanding judgments against Cuba like the one that Milagros and Rafael, Jr. obtained on behalf of their father.
Moreover, there is a real threat that outstanding judgments may never be collected. According to the Supreme Court, the President can extinguish judgments against a foreign government as part of his executive powers and authority over foreign policy. The State Department also has the authority to grant immunity to foreign nationals, thus preventing them from being liable for judgments obtained in U.S. courts. And, the Justice Department has discretion in deciding whether to seize the assets of wrongdoers to help compensate their victims. These parties could all decide to sacrifice the judgments obtained against Castro’s victims to facilitate the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.
The Castro Victims Alliance is an organization dedicated to ensuring that victims, like Rafael Del Pino and his family, receive justice and recognition for the crimes against humanity that were committed by the Castro Regime.