home politics Cuba Will Not Receive a Free Pass on Property Claims

Cuba Will Not Receive a Free Pass on Property Claims

Communist Cuba owes American taxpayers a while lot of money. It is a dirty, yet not so little secret secret that the Obama Administration and their supporters wish would go away. How much does Cuba owe? Potentially hundreds of billions of dollars.

With a very few notable exceptions, the Obama administration and Congress have done virtually nothing this year to collect on this debt and, in the near term, I doubt there is much interest in doing so because Cuban officials have been in the policy driver’s seat for at least year.

A subset of the monies Cuba owes American taxpayers includes payment for 5,193 U.S. certified claims valued in excess of $7 billion. U.S. certified claims are held by thousands of American families that had farms, homes, businesses, artwork, and much more stolen from them by the Communist government between 1959 and 1972. Many of these confiscations were done under threat or actual use of force.

Since December 17, 2014, the President and his advisors have said essentially nothing of consequence about the U.S. certified claims or the other pending potential claims against Cuba. This has sent a clear signal to regime officials that there may be room for a negotiated settlement that would devalue the claims and make it easier for Cuba wiggle out of its obligation under international law to pay for what they stole.

Sensing political weakness, the Cuban regime and their supporters in the United States are waxing on and on about how Cuba cannot afford to pay $7 billion, or anything else. And not only cannot they not afford to pay, but, they should not have to because U.S. sanctions have inflicted billions of dollars in economic damages. They want to use this alleged “damage” to offset what it owes the U.S. for certified and other claims. It is a specious argument.

In this weekend’s Pittsburgh Post Gazette, a former regime official turned U.S. economist Dr. Carmelo Mesa-Lago took my law partner to task for suggesting that Cuba has the money, or could borrow the money, to pay U.S. certified claims. Dr. Mesa-Lago was responding to comments made by Mauricio Tamargo in a story published on November 1 (available here). Dr. Mesa-Lago penned a letter to the editor stating in part:

Against my argument, Mauricio Tamargo, a lawyer trying to recover the claims, asserted that Cuban exports in 2013 ascended to $18.6 billion, hence Cuba has the means to pay back. In all Cuban history, that figure has never been achieved; actually, Cuba’s National Office of Statistics 2013 yearbook (Havana 2014, table 8.3) reports $5.2 billion, 72 percent less than Mr. Tamargo’s number, 5 percent lower than 2012 exports and 12 percent below 1989, the exports peak before the severe Cuban economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

First of all, the $18.6 billion was cited by the newspaper, not Mr. Tamargo. Second, in his defense of Cuba, Dr. Mesa-Lago cites Cuban government data. Cuban regime data is wholly unreliable (what do you expect of a nation that, among other things has two official currencies and one unofficial currency?). A recent study by the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), another noted expert on the Cuban economy states that “quantitative data from government sources are neither sufficient nor reliable enough to describe the depth and extent” of the economic disruptions in Cuba.

Finally, Dr. Mesa-Lago a long-time advocate, since at least 1970, of removing sanctions and engaging in direct talks with Communist Cuba. Why? I have no idea. You’d need to ask him that question. If he is going to single out our firm’s defense of property rights for Americans owed money by the regime, he should point out his personal views on U.S. policy.

One thing is clear, and supported by legal precedent both in the U.S. and under international law: Cuba can and must pay for the wrongs it committee against Americans as well as its people.  Anyone else who says otherwise, is dead wrong. As for Cuba’s ability to pay, that is a matter that can be negotiated, or as Mr. Tamargo says, financed by banks.

If Cuba can incur debt to support the police state or operating its tourism sector that treats Cuban workers as serfs or slaves of the state, why can’t it incur debt to pay claims? Why is Cuba financing weapon purchases from Russia and North Korea? How about non-market based trade with Venezuela and, possibly China?

It is time that the pro-Cuba lobby in the United States and Europe understood that Cuba will not get a free pass for wrongs it has perpetuated on the American people as well as the people of Cuba. Access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right. Cuba must earn it. And on that note, someone in the U.S. government needs to make it so and, the first step in doing so, is ensure that Cuba pays prompt, adequate, and effective compensation to those people from who they stole.

  • His Excellency

    Well said.

  • Andrew D. M. Parke

    Let me explain how conquests and revolutions work. The conquering power takes all, and that’s the end of the story. To demand reparations would be as ridiculous as the USA giving trillions to Native Americans for stolen land. These ‘Americans’ were never supposed to own land or other possessions in Cuba in the first place, since they’re supposedly American citizens, not Cuban citizens. The USA had no business in Latin America except enforced hegemony, installed dictatorships, and flat-out colonialism/imperialism, whether direct or indirect. Democracy, capitalism, and freedom of speech and expression aren’t for everyone; let the Cuban people decide it for themselves with another revolution. They did it once before, and they can do it again, if only they’d bothered to fight instead of flee.

  • The United States has been settling claims programs since the end of World War II under a system that works quite well. Pursuant to well-established international law and norms, even Cuba does not dispute the fact that it must pay for what it took. Are you suggesting we, simply, forgive and forget? With respect to people who were not American at the time of the taking, they too, are entitled to some justice. I’m not sure what that will look like, but we simply cannot ignore it. As the post-WWII Holocaust Jewish compensation cases/processes instruct — some in US federal court as recently as the early and mid-2000s — you must remain engaged in the legal and policy arena to right past wrongs. It may not be pleasant, but it is the right thing to do. That is what makes America stand out, for the better,
    from other global powers.

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