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Alejandre v. Republic of Cuba

United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida

December 17, 1997, Decided ; December 17, 1997, Filed

CASE NO. 96-10126-CIV-KING, CASE NO. 96-10127-CIV-KING, CASE NO. 96-10128-CIV-KING

Opinion

 [*1242] FINAL JUDGMENT

I. Introduction

The government of Cuba, on February 24, 1996, in outrageous contempt for international law and basic human rights, murdered four human beings in international airspace over the Florida Straits. The victims were Brothers to the Rescue pilots,  [**2]  flying two civilian, unarmed planes on a routine humanitarian mission, searching for rafters in the waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys.

As the civilian planes flew over international waters, a Russian built MiG 29 of the Cuban Air Force, without warning, reason, or provocation, blasted the defenseless planes out of the sky with sophisticated air-to-air missiles in two separate attacks. The pilots and their aircraft disintegrated in the mid-air explosions following the impact of the missiles. The destruction was so complete that the four bodies were never recovered.

The personal representatives of three of the deceased instituted this action against the Republic of Cuba ("Cuba") and the Cuban Air Force to recover monetary damages for the killings. One of the victims was not a U.S. citizen and his family therefore could not join in the suit. This is the first lawsuit to rely on recent legislative enactments that strip foreign states of immunity for certain acts of terrorism. Neither Cuba nor the Cuban Air Force has defended this suit, asserting through a diplomatic note that this Court has no jurisdiction over Cuba or its political subdivisions. A default was thus entered against [**3]  both Defendants on April 23, 1997 pursuant to Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Because this is a lawsuit against a foreign state, however, the Court may not enter judgment by default. Rather, the claimants must establish their "claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the Court." 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e) (1994); see Compania Interamericana Export-Import, S.A. v. Compania Dominicana de Aviacion, 88 F.3d 948, 951 (11th Cir. 1996). 1 These three consolidated cases proceeded to trial on November 13, 14, and 20, 1997, on the issues of liability and damages. Because the Court finds that neither Cuba nor the Cuban Air Force is immune from suit for the killings, and because the facts amply prove both Defendants' liability and Plaintiffs' damages, the Court will enter judgment against Defendants.

 [**4]  [*1243] II. Findings of Fact

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996 F. Supp. 1239 *; 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22722 **

MARLENE ALEJANDRE, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of ARMANDO ALEJANDRE, deceased, Plaintiff, v. THE REPUBLIC OF CUBA; THE CUBAN AIR FORCE, Defendants. MIRTA MENDEZ, as personal representative of the Estate of CARLOS ALBERTO COSTA, deceased, Plaintiff, v. THE REPUBLIC OF CUBA; THE CUBAN AIR FORCE, Defendants. MARIO T. DE LA PENA and MIRIAM DE LA PENA, individually and as personal representatives of the Estate of MARIO M. DE LA PENA, deceased, Plaintiff, v. THE REPUBLIC OF CUBA; THE CUBAN AIR FORCE, Defendants.

Disposition:  [**1]  Judgment entered on behalf of Plaintiffs and against Defendants the Republic of Cuba and the Cuban Air Force for total compensatory damages of $ 49,927,911. Judgment entered for Plaintiffs and against the Defendant the Cuban Air Force (only) as punitive damages, the sum of One Hundred Thirty Seven Million, Seven Hundred Thousand Dollars ($ 137,700,000). Total compensatory and punitive damages awarded to Plaintiffs $ 187,627,911, for which sum execution issued against the Defendants Cuba and the Cuban Air Force and against any of their assets wherever situated.

CORE TERMS

punitive damages, aircraft, planes, Military, Air, foreign state, killing, damages, civilian, international law, sight, murder, immunity, courts, extrajudicial, destroyed, default, compensatory damages, pain and suffering, human rights, terrorism, torture, pilots, target, sea, condemnation, cases, award of punitive damages, authorization, companionship

Civil Procedure, Pretrial Judgments, Default & Default Judgments, Default Judgments, Pleading & Practice, Pleadings, Rule Application & Interpretation, International Law, Dispute Resolution, Remedies, General Overview, Transportation Law, Commercial Vehicles, Foreign Commerce, Territorial Boundaries, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction Over Actions, Sovereign Immunity, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Jurisdiction, Foreign & International Immunity, Exceptions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Damages, Monetary Damages, Individuals & Sovereign States, Human Rights, Terrorism, Extrajudicial Killings, Hostage Taking & Kidnapping, Torture, Torts, Public Entity Liability, Immunities, Sovereign Immunity, Vicarious Liability, Employers, Business & Corporate Law, Duties & Liabilities, Causes of Action & Remedies, Compensatory Damages, Punitive Damages, Pain & Suffering, Emotional Distress, Types of Damages, Punitive Damages