Three Cuban workers who escaped slave labor awarded $80 million

Three Cuban men forced to work 16-hour shifts at 3.5 cents an hour repairing ships for a Cuban joint venture in Curacao won an $80 million judgment Monday in U.S. federal court in Miami.

Alberto Justo Rodríguez, Fernando Alonso Hernández and Luis Alberto Casanova Toledo -- Cuban nationals who now live in Tampa -- sued the Curacao Drydock Co., alleging the company conspired with the Cuban government to force them into virtual slave labor.

Lawyers called the deal a ''Faustian bargain'' hatched so the Cuban government could pay off its debt with Curacao Drydock by providing free labor, and at the same time skirt the U.S. embargo by working on American ships in a third country.

''These arrangements have been the lifeblood of the regime for 15 years,'' attorney John Andres Thornton said. "And those days are over.''

The plaintiffs tearfully testified about their 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts -- sometimes 45 days straight -- in harsh and dangerous work conditions. They slept in 20-foot cubicles they shared with 20 other men and often did not sleep: They needed to stay up for their turn at the shower.

On their time off, they were forced to watch hourslong videotaped speeches of then-President Fidel Castro. They were paid the average Cuban salary of $16 a month.

Alonso, who has a shrunken frame and weathered face that belie his 43 years, was awarded $30 million for the 10 years he spent at the Curacao docks. His right hand is missing the index finger and the tip of the middle finger; his left is blackened by an untreated on-the-job explosion.

''I have never even seen $1,000 together,'' Alonso said after the judgment. "I feel complete. We are in the best country in the world for justice.''

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