Thorny issues arise with claims over seized property in Cuba

Trump administration expects 75,000 to 200,000 claims

By Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer
iStock/junial

MIAMI - Attorneys in South Florida are preparing to file civil lawsuits starting May 2 seeking reparations over property in Cuba that was seized during Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. This will be possible thanks to a federal law that passed in 1996 but had never gone into effect until President Donald Trump. 

Cuba under Raul Castro welcomed foreign investors from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Europe and China. The U.S. State Department expects Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, a federal law that seeks to punish companies in Cuba for using property that rightfully belongs to U.S. citizens, could produce from 75,000 to 200,000 claims.

The legislation excludes claims related to travel and telecommunications industries and residential property that is still being used for residential purposes. Castro also expropriated commercial real estate. Attorney Pedro Freyre, who was born in Cuba, told Local 10 News reporter Glenna Milberg the lawsuits will be challenging. 

"Getting records on this out of Cuba is difficult," said Freyre, the chair of Akerman's international practice. "It's just a very difficult thing." 

Experts say the thorniest issue is placing a value on the seized properties. The burden of proof on ownership and confiscation is on the U.S. claimant. Navigating international law is complicated, and there are other countries that have enacted legislation to weaken the reach of U.S. law. This further weakens the effort of defining what court really has the authority to make legal decisions over property in Cuba. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the foreign claim settlement commission of the U.S. Cuban claims program certified claimant list includes some 900 corporate claims and about 5,000 individual claims adding up to nearly $2 billion. 

In the best-case scenario, the loser of the lawsuit could end up paying with assets in the U.S. that can be seized for compensation, but it is most likely that the companies involved have already accounted for their legal exposure.

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