Zorrilla said the toughest part of the demand was that it could be filed only when a special federal grand jury, which usually investigates public integrity and national security cases, was active. But the very existence of grand juries is usually secret.
He eventually figured out that no such grand jury was active in South Florida, he added, although U.S. law requires that one always be impaneled in any court district of more than 4 million people. South Florida’s district has 6.3 million people.
On May 10 of this year, a special grand jury was created in the South Florida district, Zorrilla wrote in the demand. Seven weeks later, he filed the writ of mandamus on behalf of Nelson Morales.
Pablo Morales was 29 years old, trained as a cartographer in Cuba but working as a carpenter and delivery-truck driver in Miami, when he volunteered to join BTTR flights designed to spot rafters in the Straits of Florida and assist them if needed.
Nelson Morales, now 66, and their mother, Eva Barbas Arango, came to Miami from Havana soon after the 1996 shootdown on special humanitarian visas issued by the Clinton administration. Barbas died earlier this month at the age of 88.
The families of the three other victims sued Cuba and received $93 million in compensation, but the Morales family could not join that lawsuit because Pablo was not a U.S. citizen.
It rejected an offer of $3 million from the settlement, saying the family wanted only justice.
Fidel Castro declared that he took “responsibility for what took place” in a March 1996 interview with Time magazine. He surrendered power to his brother Raúl, who had been minister of defense since the early 1960s, after emergency surgery in 2006.
Raúl Castro is heard detailing how he planned and ordered the operation to shoot down the BTTR airplanes in a voice recording made public in 2006 by El Nuevo Herald.
The 11-minute, 32-second recording was reportedly made as Raúl Castro spoke off the record to journalists from the state-controlled Radio Rebelde on June 21, 1996, in the northeastern city of Holguín.
After El Nuevo published the recording, the families of the BTTR victims that sued Cuba said they had turned over the same recording to the FBI four years earlier — along with a 400-page archive on the shootdown that repeatedly mentioned the recording — as part of their own push for an indictment of Fidel and Raúl Castro.
An FBI spokesperson said the bureau never received the recording, according to an El Nuevo Herald report at the time.
“Although they claimed responsibility over 17 years ago for ordering the murders of the four BTTR men, Fidel Castro and Raúl Castro have never been indicted or otherwise held accountable in a U.S. federal court for those crimes,” Nelson Morales’ complaint said.