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  • A tanker ship leaves the Havana's bay in Havana, Cuba, October 2, 2019.

    A tanker ship leaves the Havana's bay in Havana, Cuba, October 2, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 10 January 2020

So far, 72 Cuban-Americans have filed lawsuits in U.S. courts, seeking compensation for the use of confiscated properties in Cuba.

The first U.S. federal court rulings on lawsuits filed under Title III of the LIBERTAD Act, or Helms-Burton Act, have proven disappointing for the plaintiffs, who are seeking compensation for properties expropriated in Cuba following the 1959 revolution.

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Federal District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed the first two lawsuits out of about 20 filed so far under Title III, which allows plaintiffs to sue both foreign and Cuban companies making money off properties confiscated after the revolution in the Caribbean nation.

The lawsuits dismissed in the first days of 2020 had been filed against Norwegian Cruise Line and Geneva, Switzerland-based MSC Cruises for using piers confiscated from Havana Docks Corporation.

Two other Miami-based cruise lines sued under Title III – Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean – expect the dismissal of similar lawsuits filed against them.

The plaintiffs, however, can appeal the rulings made at the District Court level.

In both the Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises cases, Judge Bloom ruled in favor of motions filed by the defendants’ attorneys that argued that Title III violated their clients’ due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Bloom based her ruling principally on the fact that the 75-year contract between Havana Docks Corporation and Cuba’s previous government expired in 2004, well before the cruise lines began operating in the island nation.

“If Defendant’s alleged activities had taken place between 1960 and 2004, it would have ‘trafficked’ in Plaintiff’s confiscated property under the Act. However, because there is no dispute that Defendant’s allegedly unlawful conduct took place beginning in 2017, it did not traffic in Plaintiff’s confiscated property,” Bloom said in her ruling in the Norwegian Cruise Line case.

"Once again a U.S. court judge dismissed a lawsuit based on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, this time against Norwegian Cruise. The blockade is a violation of international law," Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca posted on Twitter.

The Helms-Burton Act was enacted in 1996, but implementation of Title III was suspended every six months by the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In May 2019, the Trump administration allowed Title III to take effect as part of tougher policy toward Cuba.

Under Title III, plaintiffs are allowed to sue over the confiscation of properties that belonged to them or their families.

In early January, another federal judge, Cecilia M. Altonaga, removed Spanish hotel company Melia, travel website Trivago and Cuban companies Gran Caribe, Cubanacan and Grupo Gaviota, all three of which are now managed by the Cuban state, from a Title III lawsuit.

In this case, it was the plaintiffs who requested the foreign companies’ removal so they could focus on online travel companies Expedia and Booking.

So far, 72 Cuban-Americans have filed lawsuits in U.S. courts, seeking compensation for the use of confiscated properties in Cuba.

Most of the targeted assets are hotels, the majority of them in the hands of European companies, especially Spanish corporations, and airlines using Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport.


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