We receive a lot of interesting inquiries from potential clients at our law firm in Washington, DC. So interesting that, sometimes, we turn them away or refer them to another firm. I enjoy a good legal scrum but cases are just not worth the political aggravation.
Potential clients meetings can be a good source of information about trending legal or public policy issues. That is why I spend a considerable amount of time talking to folks. Every now and then we learn something unexpected, such as a spike in allegedly looted or stolen Cuban art.
During the course of the last few years, I’ve had an unusual number of referrals from potential and actual owners of Cuban art and important artifacts from pre-Revolutionary Cuba. We were not experts in Cuban art, however, we understand the culture, history, as well as the politics and the law, so we bring a unique perspective to these cases.
Throughout History, Regimes Sell Art to Line Pockets
When regimes begin to have economic trouble, severe economic trouble, you can see a spike in the looting and theft of national treasures. Regime officials with close access to these works can easily smuggle them out of the country and sell them to the highest bidder. Usually on the black market, these transactions are very difficult to trace.
The case law on these matters is fascinating material. And there are even foundations dedicated to helping victims of dictatorial regimes recover stolen art or receive compensation for losses. These are not simple black and white cases. In addition to provenance, many times there are third parties to these cases who may have legally acquired these pieces or insured them. It can be an especially emotional process for families who lost everything at the hands of dictatorial regimes such as the Nazis and, yes, the Cubans.
I’ve seen a spike in these Cuban cases in DC. I’m not quite sure, yet, why this is the case. I expect to see a whole lot more as the regime leadership continues to decay and people at the very top become increasingly anxious of what is to come. Stolen and looted Cuban art are one of the many issues that the future government of Cuba will need to deal with; however, the process will likely involve the United States a large number of private parties.
Has U.S. Policy Made It Easier to Traffick in Cuban Art?
I think it has. One of the bigger loopholes in U.S. policy include the mostly free flow of educational as well as artistic matters. According to an article in today’s Miami Herald, there has been an increase in the number of Cuban-owned art galleries in the United States. Since the Cuban governments owns everything in Cuba — unless you’re a regime official, private property does not exist — these art galleries are nothing more than Communist government front stores for illegal activities.
In my book, U.S. law and policy has afforded a unique opportunity to a state sponsor of terrorism to do things they ordinarily would not be able to do. The loophole needs to be closed and these allegedly legitimate business investigated. We have unwittingly given Cuba, state sponsor of terror, the legal means to do things such as launder money and, yes, broker in stolen Cuban art and artifacts.
If you think you’ve been wronged, you have legal and other recourse. Unlike other areas of U.S. law that cover property transactions, such as Title III of Helms-Burton, if a potential bona fide owner of stolen or looted Cuban arts knows of the location of a piece or collection, they have legal options.
In this very political town, you learn quickly that there is no such thing as a political coincidence. The uptick in potential cases of allegedly stolen or looted Cuban could be yet another indicator that the good times for the regime are starting to come to an end. Let’s hope that this the case. In the meantime, the United States government needs to clamp down on these Cuban government-owned art enterprises.