When the Communists overran Cuba in 1959, one of the first things they did was murder people who, they believed, stood in their way. They also crushed Catholic Church and all religions as well as, of course, the traditional family unit. Following the Communist playbook, and that of other tyrannical regimes throughout millennia, in addition to imprisonment, torture, and murder, regime officials stole land. A lot of land.
I penned an op-ed that ran in the American Spector this week that discusses this issue. It outlines one aspect of transitional justice that needs to take some day, particularly the compensation of Americans whose properties were stolen for no other reason than that they were, Americans.
During his opening statement at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945, Justice Robert Jackson said
Any resort to war-to any kind of a war-is a resort to means that are inherently criminal. War inevitably is a course of killings, assaults, deprivations of liberty, and destruction of property. An honestly defensive war is, of course, legal and saves those lawfully conducting it from criminality. But inherently criminal acts cannot be defended by showing that those who committed them were engaged in a war, when war itself is illegal.
Jackson and the other leading jurists would go on to make history, as well as create legal precedents that are the foundation to many international legal canons that have endured since to hold government officials accountable for crimes.
The crimes committed by Communist Cuba were illegal and the regime, sooner or later, must be held to account. Justice does not have a sell-by date. Americans were not the only victims of this tragedy. There were hundreds of thousands in the early days. Tragically, those numbers continue to increase because the Obama administration has engaged the regime, in contravention of U.S. law, in the hopes that it will change. Embracing tyrants only encourages them to do evil.
The property aspect is just one element of transitional justice in a future Cuba, a process that will take years to sort out. However, the United States can begin that effort today, by doing what it is legally obligated to do, secure compensation for American families that are owed close to $8 billion for the unlawful theft of real property, homes, businesses, and, legacies and, indeed, dreams.
Most people find these topics unpleasant. Why look back? Why rehash an ugly and difficult period? Because we can and we must. Because bad people must be held to account. There are Jewish families still seeking justice for what happened to them during World War II – as it should be. Hundreds of families in Poland and other former eastern bloc nations still seek a modicum of justice for the crimes the Communists inflicted on their people. And so many more.
These issues transcend Cuba or any one nation and the United States must lead and send the message that, sooner or later, criminals and tyrants will pay for their crimes.
You can read the American Spector op-ed here.