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Reparations for Cuba: That Dog Does Not Hunt

U.S. and Cuba officials meet this week in Havana to, allegedly, create a framework or roadmap for future talks. In other words, it is a meeting about nothing. As it has done for decades, Cuba wants to discuss billions of dollars in reparations that is says U.S. taxpayers owe Cuba because of the alleged damages caused by U.S. economic sanctions. U.S. economic sanctions were imposed in response to acts of war, and other unlawful actions by the Cuban regime in the Americas and beyond.

Under long-established norms of international law, U.S. sanctions against Cuba are not illegal. The sanctions were imposed in response to illegal and, at times, violent actions by the Communists against Americans and U.S. interests. Therefore unless you’re preparing for a law school moot court competition, or some other intellectual exercise, reparations for Cuba is a dog that does not hunt. Moreover the Cubans cannot afford this reparations talk.

For example, if an international tribunal ever saw the light of day, hundreds of thousands of claims of its own people would clog up the docket for years, possibly decades. Does Cuba really want to re-open the Cold War archives? The cases will quickly pile up against the regime for crimes committed not only against the United States, but from victims of Cuban-Soviet Communism all over the world, as well as crimes against its own people. On the human rights front, serial human rights abuse cases against regime officials continue to surface before international tribunals. Reparations is the least of their problems and they best drop it, and the U.S. should stress as much to the Cubans.

As the Cubans know well, as a matter of policy, the United States does not pay reparations. So why do they keep insisting on this? Optics and because we have allowed it. For reasons, yet, unknown, the Obama administration keeps the reparation fantasy festering in the background. Unless Congress chimes in, it will likely be linked, erroneously, to the settlement of American claims against Cuba. If this is allowed to happen it would be a serious set back to international claims law as well as transitional justice in a future Cuba. It sets a very poor precedent that will negatively impact U.S. interests in Cuba and beyond as well as put a target on private foreign investment in frontier or emerging markets.

The Cuban regime is using the reparations card as a public relations tool to get out of it obligation; an obligation that, under international legal norms around for centuries, requires Cuba to return or pay back what it stole from the private sector. Communist Cuba owes American taxpayers about $8 billion for properties, homes, artwork, and businesses it stole from Americans after the 1959 Communist takeover. It also owes billions more to hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have fled, and continue to leave, the island gulag because of Communist oppression. There are also a significant number of other victims of Cuban Communism who have sued the regime in U.S. federal courts who are owed billions more for judgments against Cuban human right abusers.

Admitting that Cuba owes Americans and its own people money or land, without the reparations fig leaf, would be a significant political blow to Communist Party hardliners. And that, my friends, would be a good thing for American taxpayers as well as the people of Cuba. The Obama administration has failed to capitalize on this political pivot. For example, rather than unleash a bevy of federal regulations that encourage trafficking in stolen and confiscated properties, the administration could have exacted important concessions from Cuba before re-establishing diplomatic relations. Yet by entertaining the reparations argument, as well as encouraging trafficking in stolen properties, the Obama administration completely undercut U.S. taxpayer interests. In some cases they are also ignoring and breaking the U.S. law.

Property rights and human rights go hand in hand. The United States must set the tone for these discussions by keeping U.S. policy goals at the forefront of these talks including settling claims. On the human rights front the demands are simple: release all political prisoners, allow other political parties, and set a date for elections. The Cubans need reminding that access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right. It comes with many strings attached and we set the terms, not them.

When will the Republican Congress chime and reign in this and other bizarre behavior certain Obama administration officials? On many developments related to US-Cuba policy, many experts have asked that very question since December 18, 2014.

Cuba is a political and economic deadbeat. Regime officials remain, and always will be, serial human rights abusers. The regime continues to use property as a weapon by confiscating, if that is even possible, lands and homes belonging to Christian churches. Despite its de-listing by Secretary of State Kerry, Cuba remains a terror sponsoring state and is working with Russia to undermine U.S. interests in the Americas and beyond. It is about time that our government started to demand more from the regime. Until Cuba starts to seriously meet their many obligations to U.S. taxpayers as well as its people, there is nothing to sit down and discuss.

Cuba is just an island with a few million people; albeit a nation, allied with some of our enemies, to do harm to U.S. interests. We should gauge, measure, and apply reciprocity, accordingly. Or as we say in these parts, Communist Cuba regime officials, well, need to be put in their place.


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