Ana Margarita Martinez inspects the cockpit of a Cubana Airlines Antonov 24 turboprop plane Monday, June 2, 2003, prior to an auction which sold it and a Douglas DC3 aircraft, in Key West, Fla. Both aircraft were seized after they were …
Updated: Thursday, 01 Apr 2010, 1:29 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 01 Apr 2010, 1:28 PM EDT
MIAMI (AP) - Declaring U.S.-to-Cuba charter flights a vital national interest, the Justice Department is opposing a Cuban-American woman's attempt to make air charter companies pay a $27 million judgment she won against Cuba's communist government.
The woman, Ana Margarita Martinez, was awarded the money in 2001 after claiming in a lawsuit that she was tricked into marrying a Cuban spy so he could infiltrate Miami's large exile community. In an attempt to satisfy the judgment, her lawyers sought earlier this year to collect fees that eight air charter companies pay to Cuban tour companies for permission to land there.
The charter companies asked a federal judge to intervene, and late Wednesday the Justice Department filed papers siding with the companies. Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, who has not yet issued a final decision, had asked for the U.S. position.
The U.S. filing concludes that Martinez has no legal right to the fees and that the charter services are key to U.S. goals of easing family travel between the two countries, improving the flow of information across the Florida Straits and promoting such things as religious, artistic and sporting events and exchanges.
"The direct flights they provide are vital for maintaining contacts that are in the national interest," Ricardo Zuniga, the State Department's acting coordinator for Cuban affairs, said in an affidavit. "A disruption in licensed air charter service would cause serious harm to U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba."
The Justice Department filing also carefully notes that its position "in no way condones the acts of the Cuban government or its agents" that triggered Martinez's lawsuit.
Martinez has collected about $200,000 in frozen Cuban assets in the U.S. but continues to push for the full $27 million. She has repeatedly said her goal is not to halt travel between the two countries.
Martinez, a public relations consultant in Miami, said she met Juan Pablo Roque at church in 1992, and he became a father figure to her young children during the four years they were together — at one point even offering to adopt them before he returned to the island in 1996. Roque claimed he had defected from Cuba but was later accused by U.S. authorities of being part of a large spy ring.
The Cuban government never responded to Martinez's allegations. Its policy is to ignore lawsuits brought in U.S. courts.
Roque left Miami just after the Cuban military in 1996 shot down planes flown by Brothers to the Rescue, a Cuban exile group that dropped pro-democracy pamphlets over the island and assisted Cuban migrants attempting to reach U.S. shores. Four members of the group were killed.