CIA man who captured Che wins payout from Cubans

A FORMER CIA communist hunter who snared Che Guevara in a South American jungle more than 40 years ago has won a $2.8 billion (£1.7bn) settlement from the Cuban government that tortured him and drove his father to suicide.

Gustavo Villoldo, 72, is unlikely to ever collect the money because Cuba does not recognise US court rulings and has only about $200 million in assets frozen in America.

But the verdict is a significant psychological victory for a man who dedicated his life to fighting Communism after his family was imprisoned and tortured and their property seized in the 1959 revolution that swept Fidel Castro and Guevara, his second-in-command, to power.

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“He feels proud and humbled by the fact he was able to do this,” Andrew Hall, Mr Villoldo’s lawyer, told The Scotsman.

“He understands there is a long road ahead relative to being paid but this is the first step in the vindication of the death of his father and standing up to the terrorism of his family.”

Testimony during the half-day trial in Miami before Florida judge Beatrice Butchko revisited an era when Latin American revolutionaries such as Guevara wore military fatigues, smoked Cuban cigars and preached Communism while cosying up to the Soviet Union. Their rise put America on alert and heightened the Cold War that led to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation.

When Castro took power, Guevara personally declared that the wealthy Villoldo family’s car dealership in Havana and hundreds of vehicles were the property of the state.

Days later, Mr Villoldo’s father killed himself by an overdose of sleeping pills, leaving notes accusing “the bearded ones”, meaning Castro and Guevara, of ruining him. Meanwhile, Gustavo was arrested and jailed for ten days, allegedly for collaborating with ousted Cuban president Fulgencio Batista.

He was released and fled to Miami, where he joined the US army, took part in the ill-fated US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 designed to topple Castro, then spent years working as a CIA operative, leading a team pursuing Guevara.

The agents tracked him from Cuba to Congo and eventually, in 1967, to a guerrilla hideout in the Bolivian jungle, where he was captured and executed by government forces. Mr Villoldo later buried Guevara’s body in an unmarked grave, snipping a lock of hair that he sold for $100,000 at an auction in Texas in 2007.

“I was always fighting the system that ruined my country, against people who represented Castro’s interests,” he said later.

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“I never had a personal rancour against Che, although of course I always had this idea in the back of my mind that he and Fidel were the men responsible for my father’s death.”

This week’s victory is not Mr Villoldo’s first against the Cuban government. In 2009, he won a $1.2bn wrongful death settlement in a Florida court over his father’s suicide, an award later overturned because a federal judge determined Cuban officials were not given a chance to go to arbitration.

Mr Hall said: “I don’t think the Cuban government would allow itself to be brought into court and answer to this.”