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  HOME | Cuba

Lawsuit Threatens U.S. Direct Flights to Cuba

MIAMI – Eight companies making charter flights to Cuba asked a U.S. judge to dismiss a plea by the ex-wife of a Cuban spy that funds of those companies be withheld so that she can collect the $27.1 million in damages she was awarded after winning a lawsuit against the Havana government.

Ira J. Kurzban, attorney for the Miami-based charter firms, said that the lawsuit brought by Ana Margarita Martinez could lead to Havana suspending their landing rights, according to a court document released Tuesday.

The attorney asked U.S. District Judge Frederico Moreno to deny Martinez’ plea because if his clients do not make the payments agreed upon with Cuba for lack of funds, their flights will end since they depend on those landing rights.

The companies are ABC Charters, Airline Brokers Company Inc, C&T Charters, Cuba Travel Services, Gulfstream Air Charter, Inc., Marazul Charters, Inc., Xael Charters and Wilson International Services, Inc.

Charter flights are the only option for direct air travel from the United States to Cuba.

As Washington’s 47-year-old economic embargo effectively bars most U.S. citizens from going to Cuba, the vast majority of those who make the trip are Cuban-Americans visiting family on the communist-ruled island.

Last year, President Barack Obama rolled back the restrictions the Bush administration had imposed on Cuban-Americans’ travel to their homeland.

Martinez told Efe last Saturday that she asked that funds be withheld from those companies so she can collect the compensation that a Miami-Dade Circuit Court awarded her in 2001.

“I’ve waited a long time and I still haven’t been paid. It’s very hard to find Cuban funds, so we decided that it could be done through the charter flight companies that pay the Cuban government a percentage of the flights,” Martinez said in an interview.

In 2001 a Miami judge awarded more than $20 million in damages to the former wife of alleged Cuban spy Juan Pablo Roque for the trauma she suffered as a result of their relationship.

Circuit Court Judge Alan Postman ruled that because Martinez was deceived by Roque, legally he committed sexual battery, and that the woman was the victim of rape, torture and terrorism.

Ana Margarita Martinez’s attorneys argued that Roque had married their client in order to cover up his activities in the United States.

“Roque used Ana Margarita as a smokescreen to enable him to carry out his espionage directives, which resulted in Cuban Air Force MiG jets shooting down two Brothers to the Rescue planes and killing four Cubans, three of them U.S. citizens and one U.S. permanent resident,” Fernando Zuleta, the plaintiff’s attorney, said at the time.

The funds were to be taken from Cuban government assets frozen in the United States.

The former spy met Martinez in 1992 after allegedly swimming to the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They were married in 1995.

The marriage was annulled in 1998 after Roque’s return to the island.

In 2005 U.S. President George W. Bush ordered the Treasury Department to turn over $198,000 of Cuban funds frozen in the United States to Martinez. EFE

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