International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Refugee Journeys: Roberto Martinez - Cuba, 1960

"We were taught never to be or feel victimized or feel inferior. Or to feel like we were wanting something though certainly we left a lot behind. My father left his business and we left our home. The important thing was our family was together and we were going to school and we were starting a new life."

– Roberto Martinez
 

Roman and Roberto Martinez were born in Santiago, Cuba. During their childhood, Cuba’s authoritarian government was challenged by the violent revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro. In 1959, Castro finally seized power and began executing opponents by the hundreds. When the regime started indoctrinating schoolchildren, the brothers’ parents decided it was time to flee. Leaving behind their home in Santiago and the family insurance business, they stuffed all they could fit into the family car and traveled to Florida via the Key West–Havana car ferry, which Castro soon shut down. In July 1960, Roman and Roberto moved with their parents into a small apartment in Miami Beach. Roman was twelve years old; Roberto was seven.

As the family began setting down roots in Miami, Roberto attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He went on to earn a B.S. in economics and an M.S. in accounting from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. After a year with a public accounting firm, he entered Georgetown University Law Center, earning a J.D. degree.

After a stint as a civil litigator, Martinez joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami and spent five years as a federal prosecutor before returning to private practice. He also served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. In 1997, Martinez joined the law firm of Colson Hicks Eidson, where he is currently a partner. He concentrates his practice in the areas of civil trials and white-collar criminal defense.

Martinez was co-lead trial counsel in the litigation against the government of Cuba in the murders of four men who were shot down by the Cuban air force while flying a humanitarian mission for Brothers to the Rescue. That litigation resulted in a $188 million judgment in federal court in miami against the Cuban government and its air force. In 2001 the victims’ families received approximately $100 million from assets of the Cuban government frozen by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Martinez has been an active civic leader. He is a past chair and present member of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating commission and a member of the Florida State Board of education. He has also served as chairman of the District Board of Trustees of Miami-Dade college and as a
member of the adjunct faculty at the University of Miami’s School of Law. He is an International Rescue Committee Overseer and member of the IRC Board’s Security Committee.

In 2010, Martinez was instrumental in reuniting Nadine Devilme, Junior Alexis and their infant daughter Jenny in Miami after the family was separated during the devastating January 12 earthquake in Haiti. 

Roberto Martinez is one of 10 distinguished refugees who were honored by the International Rescue Committee at our 2010 Freedom Award Dinner in New York City.  Check back each Monday for a new story of a refugee who has fled tyranny and persecution and who has made the most of the opportunity to begin again and thrive in the U.S.   You can see all of the stories posted so far here.

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