Cubans Ready to Sue in U.S. Courts for Confiscated Properties
Jose Ramon Lopez Regueiro claims to be the sole heir of the once privately-owned Havana airport -- and he is preparing to sue in US courts to recover the property confiscated in Cuba under Fidel Castro.
The case is the result of President Donald Trump's administration announcement in April that it would allow lawsuits in US courts over properties seized by Cuba's communist government, enforcing a provision of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that had been waived by successive presidents.
"I'm very optimistic that justice will finally be served. I've been waiting 60 years for this moment," Lopez Regueiro told AFP.
The plaintiff was just six years old when his father, Jose Lopez Vilaboy, fled Cuba after revolutionaries overthrew his close friend, dictator Fulgencio Batista.
He was the main shareholder of Havana's Rancho Boyeros airport, and of the Cubana de Aviacion airlines, four hotels and a newspaper, among other properties confiscated by Castro.
But starting Thursday, Cuban-Americans with US citizenship can seek compensation in US courts from the Cuban government or private companies for their "stolen" properties on the island.
"First I'm going to file my claim for the Havana airport and Cubana de Aviacion," said the 65 year-old Lopez Regueiro.
He claims that in 1958 the terminal was worth $24 million.
He also plans to sue all airlines that use the airport -- which include the likes of American Airlines, Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air France and Iberia.
- After the 'Troika of Tyranny' -
The airport case is just one of hundreds of similar claims that could inundate courts in south Florida, home to the largest community of Cuban-Americans in the country, some two million strong.
Another is that of Javier Garcia Bengochea, a Cuban-American expected to sue the Carnival Cruise Line for using a confiscated port terminal.
Nick Gutierrez, a member of Garcia's legal team, told Radio Television Marti -- which broadcasts from Miami to Cuba -- that the port of Santiago de Cuba belongs to his client's family.
Carnival appeared unfazed by the prospects of a lawsuit. "We continue to offer our normal cruise schedule to Cuba for our guests," company spokesman Roger Frizzell told AFP.
The European Union and Canada have expressed displeasure over the US action, concerned that the property disputes will ensnare their citizens who do business in the island.
Apart from how individual cases are resolved and whether US judgments are honored, opening the floodgates of lawsuits is "a tremendous complication for Cuba," lawyer Juan Poblete told AFP.
Investors with interests in the United States will think twice before entering into transactions involving confiscated properties, he said.
Former president Barack Obama had eased restrictions on Cuba, considering that the US's half-century-old policy of isolating the island had failed.
But Trump has moved in the opposite direction, tightening sanctions against what he calls the "troika of tyranny" -- Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
The activation of the provision of the Helms-Burton Act seeks to weaken the Cuban government, which Washington considers the puppet master of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega.
Marcell Felipe, who serves as a consultant to law firms on the legislation, believes it will weaken the Cuban government by depriving it of resources used to control the population.
Besides defending property rights and the rule of law, he said, lawsuits "are an important weapon to deprive the families of the generals of fresh money from investors."