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US case highlights Cuban 'slaves' in Curaçao

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"These types of violations are not out of the ordinary for the Cuban government," says Tomas Bilbao of the Cuba Study Group in Washington, which helped the workers bring their suit. "What's surprising is that it happened in a dependency of the Netherlands, a country known for its interest in human rights."

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.

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