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December 17, 1997

U.S. Judge Orders Cuba To Pay $187 Million in Damages for Three Americans Killed When Cuban Jets Shot Down Two Private Planes Last Year

U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, ruling in a damage lawsuit filed by the victims’ families, said the government of Cuba should pay $49.9 million in compensatory damages while its air force should pay $134.7 million in punitive damages.

Relatives of three of the four men killed in the Feb. 24, 1996, shootdown over the Florida Straits south of Miami had asked for $79.9 million in damages from the Cuban government.

Three separate lawsuits were consolidated into this case: one brought by the wife and daughter of Armando Alejandre, 45, and the other two by the parents of Carlos Costa, 29, and Mario de la Pena, 24.

The three men were shot from the sky by Cuban MiGs while on a flight searching for rafters fleeing Cuba.

The families sought damages under a new U.S. law that allows survivors to sue countries labeled as terrorist states. The families want to be paid from Cuban assets frozen by the U.S. government.

A fourth victim, Pablo Morales, wasn’t a U.S. citizen, and his relatives weren’t eligible to sue under the terrorism law.

Cuba’s foreign ministry spokesman in Havana has said the trial is part of a trend by U.S. courts, and Florida courts in particular, to try to go beyond their jurisdiction.

A United Nations aviation panel ruled last year that the planes were shot down over international waters and Cuba violated international law.

The families received $300,000 each last November that the U.S. government got from frozen Cuban accounts. The government called it a humanitarian gesture, and lawyers said it would have no bearing on damages in this case.

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