The three men testified that they had been sent to Curaçao to work off Cuba's multimillion-dollar debt to the Curaçao Drydock Company, a private company whose largest shareholder is the government of the Netherlands Antilles. Their passports were seized at the airport and they were rarely allowed to leave the shipyard complex, and only in groups with a minder. They typically worked 15 days in a row and when off-duty had to watch Fidel Castro's videotaped speeches.
Working conditions were perilous, they testified. One of the men, Fernando Alonso, burned his hand while welding steel without proper safety gear. Another, Alberto Rodriguez-Licea, broke his foot and ankle when a rope he was dangling from snapped. The third, Luis Casanova, was ordered to work in water and says he was shocked so severely that electricity shot from his tongue.
"They faced the worst choice you can imagine: to continue being slaves not knowing if they would live or die because they were being treated so badly or to try to escape, knowing that even if they were successful it would be horrific for their families in Cuba," says Miami-based attorney Seth Miles, who represented the men. "Their kids have been kicked out of school, their relatives have lost their jobs, and neighborhood gangs harass their families."
Mr. Castro's nephew, Manuel Bequer, was a senior manager of the shipyard at the time. He is still listed as the production manager on the company's website.