Alleged Torturer Now a U.S. Citizen


His nickname was El Enfermero--The Nurse. His alleged occupation was torturer, in the service of Cuba’s communist leaders.

Eugenio de Sosa Chabau is now 85, but he remembers his tormentor with photographic clarity, down to the military-style khaki shirt and trousers he wore. Four times, he says, The Nurse attached electrodes to his temples, and 10 times to his sexual organs.

“You feel like an explosion in your head, and you lose consciousness,” De Sosa recalled. When he came to, the Havana newspaper publisher who had been arrested for opposing Fidel Castro would usually be lying in his own filth.


De Sosa emigrated to the United States, after 21 harsh years of incarceration. A decade ago, while visiting an ailing aunt in the Miami suburb of Hialeah, he was startled to see a familiar figure, now dressed in the whites of a nursing-home employee.

It was El Enfermero--Eriberto Mederos, who joined the Cuban boat lift to the U.S. in 1984, and became a citizen in May 1993.

In a case hailed as a landmark by Cuban Americans and human-rights activists, Mederos, 78, has been charged with obtaining his American citizenship fraudulently by lying about his former occupation: administrator of electric-shock therapy to political opponents of the Castro regime, who were confined to the Mazorra psychiatric hospital near Havana.

Mederos was arrested Sept. 4, and is free on $500,000 bail. His attorney, David B. Rothman, recommended he not speak to a reporter before his trial, but in the past, Mederos has asserted that he did nothing wrong.

“I only did what the doctors ordered,” Mederos said in a 1992 newspaper interview. “I never did anything on my own account.”

Slightly built, hawk-nosed and now bald, the elderly Cuban American seemed befuddled as he stood before U.S. Magistrate Ted Bandstra for a recent hearing. Though manacled and under arrest, Mederos turned and tried to walk out of the courtroom, before bailiffs halted him.


According to Assistant U.S. Atty. Frank Tamen, Mederos, if found guilty, could face revocation of his citizenship, a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of $250,000. If stripped of his citizenship, he could be deported, but Cuba would have to agree to accept him first.

“This individual should never have been admitted to the United States and allowed to become a citizen,” Tamen said.

If Mederos loses his citizenship and gets deported, it will be the first time that such action has been taken against an alleged torturer who worked for someone other than the Nazis and their World War II allies, said Richard Krieger, president of International Educational Missions, a nonprofit, Boynton Beach, Fla.-based organization that attempts to exclude from the U.S. foreign war criminals and those accused of abusing human rights.

According to Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican, such unsavory neighbors are far more numerous than most Americans realize.

“Currently, the United States is home to many immigrants who have fled torture, terror or war crimes in their home country,” Foley said. “What many people do not know is that often, the torturers also come to live here in America. These torturers are terrorists in their countries, and could bring that terror to America.”

Foley is sponsoring a bill that would broaden the powers of the Justice Department and other federal agencies to stop reputed persecutors, torturers and terrorists at the borders, or deport them if they are already here. The congressman says his bill is especially timely now that Congress is revisiting immigration laws after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

According to Foley’s office, America is the adopted home of, among others, Nikola Vuckovic, a former Bosnian Serb concentration camp guard accused of beating and torturing Muslim prisoners; Juan Lopez Grijalva, former head of the Honduran secret police wanted in his homeland for the 1982 death-squad executions of leftists; Kelbessa Negewo, a former Ethiopian security official who oversaw the torture and execution of political prisoners in 1978; and Alvaro Rafael Saravia Marino, who has been identified as a key suspect in the murder of Oscar Amulfo Romero, archbishop of El Salvador.

Already, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has stepped up its pursuit of accused torturers, with at least 26 arrests in Florida alone in the past year. In June, federal agents in this state arrested a former Haitian coup leader, Carl Dorelien, who was one of 30 top army officers convicted in a 1994 massacre that killed dozens in the seaside slum of Raboteau. He had fled to South Florida that year, and later won $3.2 million in the Florida lottery. The colonel is in INS detention, facing deportation.

Allegations about Mederos’ past were detailed in a 1991 published study that alleged wholesale abuses of psychiatry in Cuba to punish and neutralize opponents of the communist leadership. For years, exiles in Miami have hoped Mederos would be brought to justice. Surviving patients of the mental hospital where Mederos worked claim he administered the electro-shocks with a smile on his face.

At a September news conference, government officials were at a loss to explain how Mederos had been granted U.S. citizenship at least two years after he had been publicly accused of torturing political prisoners in Cuba.

“There is not a lot of evidence in the file,” said James Goldman, chief of investigations for the INS.

Krieger was one of the driving forces behind bringing Mederos to trial. So were Miami’s Cuban American congressional representatives, Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who wrote Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft earlier this year calling for the revocation of Mederos’ citizenship.

De Sosa believes he was tortured in 1977 because years earlier, he had tried to warn President Kennedy, a Choate classmate, about the presence of Russian missiles in Cuba.

He is content that Mederos may finally be brought to account, but says he will not attend the trial.

“I’m 85, my heart is OK, but when I see a guy like that, I might go crazy,” De Sosa said. “I might die of a heart attack or something.”

Soon after the arrest of Mederos, Cuban President Fidel Castro denounced what he termed a smear tactic intended to discredit and weaken the Cuban revolution.

A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 26 before U.S. District Judge Alan Gold to set the trial date.