Court Won't Stay Cuban Workers' Slavery Lawsuit
By IULIA FILIP
(CN) - A federal judge refused to stay a lawsuit in which three Cubans
claim a shipyard on the island of Curacao virtually enslaved them to pay
off Cuba's debt to the company.
In their 2006 lawsuit, the Cuban workers said they were kidnapped
and trafficked to Curacao, where the Cuban government forced them and
many others to work for Curacao Drydock in slave-like conditions on
ships and oil platforms, for 112 hours a week. The men claimed they were
never paid and worked for 15 years to satisfy a debt Cuba owed Curacao
Drydock. They eventually escaped and made it to the United States.
After the workers sued the shipyard under the Alien Tort Statute
and the RICO Act, Curacao Drydock unsuccessfully tried to move the case
to Curacao. The company then abandoned its defense of the lawsuit and
lost by default. The district court in Miami ordered Curacao Drydock to
pay the plaintiffs $80 million.
In 2010, the plaintiffs sought to add the island of Curacao and
the Netherlands Antilles, which owned Curacao Drydock, as judgment debtors.
The Netherlands Antilles was an autonomous Caribbean country
within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of two groups of
islands, one of which included Aruba and Curacao. Aruba seceded in 1986,
and the rest of the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved in October 2010.
That year, Curacao became a separate country within the Kingdom of the
Netherlands, which inherited the Netherlands Antilles' rights and
The court refused to add Curacao and the Kingdom of the
Netherlands as judgment defendants, but it granted limited
jurisdictional discovery to determine if the two countries qualified for
immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).
The Cubans had argued that Curacao and the Kingdom of the
Netherlands had used assets in the United States to fund and operate
Curacao Drydock's commercial activities, which were related to
plaintiffs' claims, and therefore were not entitled to sovereign immunity.
Curacao and the Kingdom of the Netherlands asked the court to
reverse its order granting jurisdictional discovery, but the court
denied its motion and refused to stay the lawsuit pending appeal.
The countries renewed their request last month, but the plaintiffs
opposed the stay, arguing that the appeal was frivolous.
Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King agreed that the
appeal was premature, because the court had yet to rule on the issue of
The judge noted that the court had limited discovery to evidence
supporting an exception to the FSIA, as opposed to "general asset
discovery," and thus had not infringed on the governments' presumed
The court has not decided whether it has jurisdiction over Curacao
and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the ruling states. King admonished
the governments for failing to respond in a timely manner to the Cubans'
motion for limited jurisdictional discovery, and noted that the court of
appeals "looks disfavorably on 'defendants who abuse the pretrial
process through such stalling.'"