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"It was all about our father," Gustavo adds. "This is about justice, about holding them accountable for what they did to a human being."
On March 18, 2008, they filed an 11-page complaint demanding restitution. "Defendants Fidel Castro Ruiz, [and Che] Guevara... are liable for damages arising from the systematic physical and emotional destruction of [Gustavo Sr.] that culminated in him committing suicide," the suit claimed.
The brothers' case went to trial May 28. On the stand before Judge Peter Adrien, Gustavo wept as he showed photographs of his family. He broke down as he described the walk he took with his father the night before his suicide. As in all the other cases, the Cuban government did not defend itself.
The next day, on May 29, Adrien told a packed courtroom what he thought about Che Guevara and Fidel Castro's role in Gustavo Sr.'s death: "What the defendants did is torture this family and tear it apart."
Adrien awarded the Villoldo brothers the full $393 million for family assets, another $392 million for pain and suffering, and $393 million in punitive damages. In all, he gave them $1.178 billion, the largest civil judgment ever decided against Cuba.
Many laughed it off as the latest bit of anti-Castro extremism. Castro even dedicated his "Reflections of Fidel" column in the Granma newspaper on May 30 to Villoldos' judgment. The award shows that "chaos prevails" in America, he wrote, scoffing, "Such is justice in the United States!" Peter McLaren, a UCLA scholar and Che expert, asks, "When are the victims of U.S. imperialism going to get financial restitution? Who's going to pay the families of everyone who committed suicide because of the financial crisis?"
But Gustavo figures he can squeeze the cash out of Castro. Still, Cuban funds frozen by the U.S. government in 1959 are basically tapped out. "There's nothing left," says Joe DeMaria, a Miami lawyer who's worked on these cases. Exiles have now turned to American phone companies looking for Cuban money. AT&T, Sprint, and others sent more than $120 million to Cuba through long-distance calls in the last half of 2008. Earlier this month, a U.S. district judge ordered the companies to explain the practice, setting the stage for a battle over the money.
Gustavo is watching the case but has begun searching for Cuban accounts and property in Western nations like Spain that have long had relations with Castro. He hopes to persuade those governments to recognize his judgment and freeze Cuban assets. "It's a new strategy, but it's got a good chance of working," says Jeremy Alters, Gustavo's lead attorney.
Sitting in his den in west Miami-Dade beneath an oil painting of his father, Gustavo glances around at his mementos. He has no regrets, he says. Then his eyes flash.
"We are gonna collect," he says. "You don't know me, maybe. I'm telling you: We are gonna collect."