Judge rules against Cuba

MIAMI – A federal judge ordered the Cuban government and the ruling Communist Party on Wednesday to pay $27.5 million in damages to the mother of a journalist jailed since a 2003 crackdown on dissent.

U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold ruled in the case of Omar Rodriguez Saludes, who is serving a 27-year sentence in Cuban prisons the judge described as “deplorable and degrading” in his 13-page order.

“During his imprisonment, he has been beaten, starved, given poor food, placed in solitary confinement and deprived of medical treatment,” Gold said, quoting from allegations in the lawsuit.

The ruling awards $25 million in punitive damages against the Cuban Communist Party and $2.5 million in compensatory damages against the government of President Raul Castro. Attorney Pedro Martinez-Fraga, who represents the jailed journalist’s mother, said the case sets important legal precedents by finding the Cuban Communist Party is inseparable from the government and by issuing damages for the family of living person.

“A very, very strong message is being sent about how Cuban damages are going to be awarded in the future in federal court, or any court,” Martinez-Fraga said.

Olivia Saludes, the mother who filed the lawsuit six years ago, did not immediately return a telephone message at her home in Monticello, Ky. Gold’s ruling said Cuban authorities have not permitted her Cuban-born son to call her and denied her visa applications.

The lawsuit was filed under the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-U.S. citizens access to courts to challenge violations of international laws or treaties.

Officials at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington did not immediately respond to a telephone call or an e-mail seeking comment.