BELFAST – A Stockton Springs woman has filed suit against Fidel Castro for the wrongful death of her pilot father who allegedly was shot down over Cuba in 1963 while on a covert mission.
The lawsuit, filed in Waldo County Superior Court by Sherry Sullivan, also names Castro’s brother Raul, the Cuban army and the Republic of Cuba as defendants.
The suit was filed in May but sat on Justice Nancy Mills’ desk until last week as she grappled with how to serve the papers to Cuba. Although court documents usually are delivered by hand to the parties named, Mills decided to send a certified Spanish translation of the suit to Cuba by registered mail requesting proof of delivery. The court has yet to receive proof that Castro was served notice of the suit.
Sullivan contends that her father, Geoffrey Francis Sullivan, was captured after being shot down and that he later died while being held in a Cuban jail for political prisoners. She charges that Castro had “intentionally, unlawfully and with complete disregard for human life” caused the imprisonment and eventual death of her father.
Although no formal record of Geoffrey Sullivan’s death was ever recorded, the Social Security Administration has declared that he is dead, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has listed him as missing in action.
“I don’t have any actual proof that my father was executed, but I believe he was,” Sullivan said Monday.
The last official known sighting of Geoffrey Sullivan was on Oct. 1, 1963, when he took off from Mexico in a twin-engine Beechcraft with New York newspaperman Alexander Irwin Rorke Jr., who was believed to be an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency and ran guns to Cuba. A month earlier, Sullivan and Rorke allegedly had taken part in a bombing run over Cuba, an act that received widespread newspaper coverage that identified both men as being involved.
Sullivan was 29 years old at the time of his disappearance and had served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He was a commercial pilot and member of the U.S. Army Reserves when he disappeared.
According to the lawsuit, from 1960 until their disappearance, Sullivan and Rorke participated in numerous covert anti-Castro operations in Central America and Cuba. They also took part in Operation Mongoose, a covert-action sabotage and subversion program against Cuba run by the CIA.
Sullivan, 52, said she has “devoted her life to uncovering the truth” about her father and spent years trying to gather information from government agencies but was stymied repeatedly. She has more than 100,000 pages of documents dealing with the case, she said.
She learned that her father crossed paths with individuals named in investigations into the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Watergate burglary. She also uncovered numerous “contemporaneous” reports that her father and Rorke had been shot down over Cuba. She learned that several former Cuban prisoners reported the presence of a fellow prisoner named Sullivan in a Cuban jail. An American who was in Cuba in 1964 spoke to a former prisoner who said he served time with Sullivan and Rorke, she said.
The suit states that Sullivan “has credible information from a variety of independent, identified, sources that her father was captured and held by Fidel Castro and the government of Cuba” in violation of international law.
“We don’t have any official proof from either government, but I think that we have enough proof from other people to support our claim,” Sullivan said.
The suit notes that under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Castro, his brother, his army and the Republic of Cuba are liable for damages arising from the “indeterminate, undisclosed and illegal incarceration” and eventual death of Sullivan. The law allows victims of states, such as Cuba, that have been identified as sponsors of terrorism to sue for damages.
Sullivan said that in the past few years state courts have ruled in a number of wrongful death claims against the Castro regime and have awarded millions of dollars to the families of victims. Damages have been paid from Cuban assets frozen by the U.S. government shortly after the Castro revolution, Sullivan said.
According to The Associated Press, at the end of 2005, approximately $270 million in Cuban assets were frozen in U.S. bank accounts.
“I’m just basically filing the same type of suit that has won in other courts,” Sullivan said.
The suit demands damages for the loss of support, severe emotional distress and anguish Sullivan has suffered and will continue to suffer as a result of her father’s death. There are also the economic damages owed to Geoffrey Sullivan’s estate, and damages for the pain and suffering he endured at the hands of the Castro regime.
Sullivan’s attorney, David J. Van Dyke of the Lewiston firm Hornblower, Lynch, Rabasco & Van Dyke P.A., could not be reached for comment.