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   Vol.65/No.9            March 5, 2001 
Washington turns over Cuban funds to families of rightists shot down in 1996
In one of his final actions as president, Williams Clinton signed an executive order January 19 releasing $96.7 million in frozen Cuban funds to the families of three rightists who were killed when their planes were shot down in 1996 for deliberately violating Cuban air space.

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill February 12 authorized Chase Manhattan Bank to transfer the funds. The bank transfer includes $58 million in compensatory damages for the relatives of three of the pilots, $35 million in court-imposed sanctions against the Cuban government, and $3.7 million in interest charges.

Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba's National Assembly, described this decision as "very grave." He said that Washington's action "absolutely negates the possibility of any Cuban commercial transactions in [the United States]." He stated, "The United States does not have the right to use something it doesn't own.... By diverting the frozen funds, [Washington] not only strips Cuba of its legitimate funds but also materially supports the elements involved in terrorist actions against this country."

"To make things worse," Alarcon added, "The American government with that authorization encourages future terrorist acts and provocations."

As part of its economic war against the Cuban revolution, Washington had frozen more than $120 million in payments due to Cuba's telephone company for bilateral telecom services provided between 1966 and 1994.

In response to increased provocations by Brothers to the Rescue, which had repeatedly violated Cuban air space despite numerous warnings by the Cuban government and with the full knowledge of U.S. government authorities, Cuban forces shot down two of their planes. Under a suit filed in U.S. courts, the pilots' families in 1997 were granted a $187 million judgment against the Cuban government.

Shortly after the shootdown, Clinton signed into law the Helms-Burton Act, which further tightened the four-decade-long U.S. embargo against Cuba. That same year, the U.S. government passed the so-called Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which allows U.S. citizens to go to U.S. courts to seize frozen assets of nations targeted by Washington.

Under a "Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act," which Congress passed last October, the U.S. Treasury could seize frozen assets of governments Washington claims are terrorist, including Iran, Libya, and Cuba, and award these funds to plaintiffs who file lawsuits against these governments.

In response to this move, the Cuban government adopted a decree on October 23 imposing a 10 percent tax on all phone calls between the two countries. In December, Havana cut direct telephone service with the United States after Washington refused to pay the tax.
Related articles:
200,000 attend Havana book fair
Cuban generals speak about Bay of Pigs
'Cuba has done much for the peoples of Africa'  
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