Carnival Corp. is the first U.S. company sued for using ‘stolen’ property in Cuba

The Miami Herald

Carnival Cruise Lines was hit Thursday with unprecedented lawsuits filed by businessmen who for decades have sought justice after their families’ properties were seized by Fidel Castro nearly 60 years ago.
The Miami-based cruising conglomerate was sued in federal court by Mickael Behn and Javier Garcia-Bengochea, both of whom hold claims certified by the federal government for assets confiscated shortly after the Cuban Revolution. The lawsuits — made possible by a historic change in policy under the Trump administration — seek millions in compensation for the use of buildings and docks where Carnival’s cruise liners have anchored following Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with the Castro regime.
“Thanks to the Cuban exile community and the LIBERTAD Act, we can finally get justice after 60 years,” Behn, whose grandfather owned buildings and three piers at the entrance to the Port of Havana before they were nationalized in late 1960, said while fighting tears outside the federal courthouse in Miami. “They just hoped my family would die and fade away.”
Behn and Garcia-Bengochea filed their claims on the first day possible after Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to fully enact a provision under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act — or LIBERTAD Act — allowing U.S. nationals and naturalized Cubans to seek damages for property seized by Cuba’s communist government.
Trump, like every president before him over the last 23 years, had previously declined to allow the pursuit of Helms-Burton claims in the name of furthering diplomatic relations with the Cuban government. But he pivoted last month amid a toughening stance on leftism in Latin America.
Now, Behn and Garcia-Bengochea are demanding millions that, according to the U.S., has been owed them for nearly 50 years. Both men hold claims certified by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission in the early 1970s.
Garcia-Bengochea, a Jacksonville neurosurgeon, holds a claim issued to his cousin for a company, La Maritima Parreño, that owned port terminal and warehouse facilities in Santiago de Cuba until it was all seized by Castro. It was valued at $636,00 back in 1970. Behn inherited a Havana Docks claim valued at $9.2 million. But the values on both claims has been accruing at 6 percent interest annually for nearly half a century, and Behn recently valued his claim at $45 million.
Federal law, meanwhile, allows plaintiffs to seek triple the value.
“We’re pleased to have the opportunity to be the first to announce lawsuits under the Helms-Burton act against Carnival,” said Garcia-Bengochea. “They were the first cruise line to traffic in our stolen properties so they deserve the ignominious distinction of being the first to be sued under the act.”
The lawsuits are likely the first of many and serve as a warning to companies doing business in Cuba. Nearly 6,000 claims have been certified by the federal government, and Behn and Garcia-Bengochea have signaled that they’ll likely sue additional companies using their families’ seized properties moving forward.
The nearly 60 U.S. companies with presence in Cuba are doing so under authorizations issued by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which handles a number of U.S. sanctions programs. But having an OFAC license may not be enough to protect the businesses from lawsuits.
Kimberly Breier, assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, told el Nuevo Herald last week that “there will not be any exemptions” when asked if the OFAC licenses for doing business in Cuba provide protection. Behn told el Nuevo Herald that, while the U.S. government has licensed companies to do business in Cuba, that doesn’t give them permission to use stolen property.
George Fowler, one of Carnival’s attorneys and vice-chairman of the Cuban-American National Foundation, told el Nuevo Herald that the lawsuits would go nowhere because the Helms-Burton law excludes liabilities for commercial activities related to authorized travel to Cuba. In addition, the cruise companies were issued licences by the Treasury Department to carry U-S. travelers to the island.
“The law is clear, if the trip was allowed, the Helms-Burton does not apply,” said Fowler, who worked to get the law passed in 1996. “It was not the intention of the Helms-Burton law to go after American companies with legal business in Cuba. They can try it, but I’ve been here for 40 years, and I tell them: good luck.“
Behn and Garcia-Bengochea are being represented by Colson Hicks Eidson attorney Roberto Martinez, a former U.S. Attorney in Miami who fled Cuba the same year that his clients’ properties were nationalized. As an attorney, Martinez has represented clients against the Cuban government, and pursued a case following the shoot-down of four Brothers to the Rescue planes that led Bill Clinton to sign the Helms-Burton Act in 1996.
“I left Cuba in 1960. It’s emotional for me and it’s not my property,” Martinez said.
Cuba’s government has dismissed the relevance of U.S. courts to its affairs. But the Helms-Burton Act explicitly links the payment of claims to the resolution of the ongoing embargo strangling Cuba’s communist government of business, although filing lawsuits to seek payment for those claims is a complicated process. And now U.S. citizens can bring action against companies doing business in Cuba.
“For the first time claimants are able to bring lawsuits against persons trafficking in property that was confiscated by the Cuban regime,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month in announcing the policy. “Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement.”
Thursday’s historic lawsuits come as Trump continues to step up pressure on the Cuban government through sanctions and through its efforts to topple Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, a country where Cuba is deeply invested politically and economically. A 1996 State Department report estimated there may be as many as 200,000 possible complaints, and an official recently told el Nuevo Herald that it’s possible the federal government could, for the third time, open up a window for people to file new claims.

Trump threatens Cuba with ‘full and complete’ embargo, ‘highest-level sanctions,’ citing Venezuela role

Opponents to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro face off with Bolivarian National Guards in armored vehicles who are loyal to the president, during an attempted military uprising in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Opposition leader Juan Guaido took to the streets with a small contingent of heavily armed troops in a call for the military to rise up and oust Maduro.

As Venezuela plunged into a dramatic televised scene of chaos and violence on Tuesday, President Trump warned he would impose a “full and complete embargo” and sanctions on Cuba if its troops do not cease operations in the ravaged South American nation.

National Security Adviser John Bolton alleged earlier Tuesday that Cuban troops were keeping Maduro in power in Caracas.

“It’s a very delicate moment,” Bolton said, adding that “all options” remained on the table — including, potentially, a U.S. military intervention. “The president wants to see a peaceful transfer of power.”

Trump’s dramatic threat came hours after his administration resoundingly endorsed an ongoing Venezuelan opposition effort, headed by Juan Guaido and Leopoldo Lopez, to spark a military uprising against embattled President Nicolas Maduro. The Trump administration also has worked to roll back Obama-era easing of Cold War sanctions on Cuba.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Tuesday that Maduro had been on his way out of the country bound for Cuba, but that Russia told him to remain. Bolton, meanwhile, warned Russia against interfering.

The U.S. government said about 20,000 Cuban troops and agents have been working in Venezuela to prop up Maduro’s government, a figure disputed by Cuba.

In February, Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Maduro, fearing for his own safety, has “completely surround[ed]” himself with Cuban security.

“I think it’s a good sense of where the loyalty of the Venezuelan people are, that his immediate security force is made up of Cubans,” Faller told the committee.

The White House has long linked Venezuela’s fortunes to Cuba. At a major foreign policy address earlier this year, Trump declared: “When Venezuela is free, and Cuba is free, and Nicaragua is free, this will become the first free hemisphere in all of human history.”

Trump continued, as the crowd roared: “The days of socialism and communism are numbered not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and Cuba as well. Do we love Cuba? Do we love Nicaragua? Great countries. Great potential.”

The U.S. and about 50 other nations have taken the position that Maduro’s re-election last year was marred by fraud and he is not the legitimate president of Venezuela, a once prosperous nation that has the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

In January, the administration took the unusual step of recognizing Guaido, the opposition leader of the National Assembly, as interim president. It also imposed punishing sanctions on the country’s oil sector, deepening the country’s economic crisis.

Despite these and other measures, Maduro, the hand-picked successor to Chavez, has retained his hold on the country and the support of the security services.

That support had seemed to crack Tuesday with the launch of what the opposition was calling “Operation Freedom,” which began with the early-morning release of a short video of Guaido and Lopez alongside a few dozen national guardsmen urging people to “take to the streets.”

In a video broadcast live on telecasts across the world, an armored vehicle could be seen driving over the center of a road, hitting a crowd of demonstrators loyal to Guaido who were purportedly throwing rocks at security forces. Dozens of injuries have been reported.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL., denounced the actions by Venezuelan security forces, saying that “military and security leaders must realize they are and will be held responsible for this,” he said on Twitter.

“What we are seeing today in Venezuela is the will of the people to peacefully change the course of their country from one of despair to one of freedom and democracy,” Pompeo tweeted in an early reaction. “The U.S. stands with them.”

Still, the Trump administration was caught slightly off-guard by Guaido’s decision to launch the campaign on Tuesday. Elliott Abrams, the special representative for Venezuela, said the administration had expected major marches and protests to take place on Wednesday for the May Day holiday.

Guillermo García Frías has caused the start of a new wave of exiles

Guillermo García Frías, 91, a former comrade-in-arms of the late leader Fidel Castro, recommended the ostrich as a nutritious supplement to the Cuban diet.

Time to leave!

In fact, he said on state television, it could produce “more than a cow”, raising more than a few eyebrows across the communist-ruled country and leading to ridicule on social media.

He made the suggestion as director of Cuba’s National Flora and Fauna company, which raises ostriches and experiments with other farming ideas in an attempt to resolve one of the Cuban socialist economy’s most enduring headaches: shortages of basic food, such as meat, milk and eggs.

The white-haired comandante, who appeared in his olive-green military uniform, also suggested that Cubans consider adding two local species to their menu – the crocodile and the jutía (hutia), an edible rodent also known as the “banana rat”.

The Twilight Zone has arrived in Cuba. How long will these ridiculous harebrained ideas continue to be accepted?

See more on the BBC

Trump will allow Cuban Americans to sue for confiscated property in Cuba

The Miami Herald

The Trump administration will end the suspension of a law that allows American citizens, including naturalized Cubans, to sue companies and subsidiaries in Cuba that benefited from private properties that were confiscated by the Cuban government, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

Title III of the Libertad Act, which was previously suspended by the Obama administration and by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, will be fully implemented, and the administration said Title IV will also be enforced. The decision is a victory for South Florida Republicans who want a tougher Cuba policy and comes as the White House tries to curtail oil shipments between Cuba and Venezuela through sanctions.
Title III allows U.S. citizens to sue for properties that were confiscated once Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 and are now valued at $8 billion. Title IV denies visas for Cubans who benefited financially from the confiscated properties after 1996.
The announcement comes a day before the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion and a planned speech by National Security Advisor John Bolton to the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association in Miami. Bolton plans on outlining the new policy in his remarks.
“This is a bump in the business world, but sends a powerful signal,” said a senior administration official, who confirmed the U.S. would not be granting any exemptions. “Over 20 years of waivers for Title III will no longer be available.”

Several longstanding U.S. allies, including Canada and Spain, which have significant business stakes in Cuba, have protested the enforcement of Title III over concerns of sovereignty. But the U.S. official said the administration’s decision to shorten waiver periods in the past few weeks gave Canada and European governments time to prepare.
Pedro Freyre, a Miami attorney who advises U.S. companies on doing business in Cuba within the limitations of the ongoing embargo, said Canadian or European companies that do business in Cuba and the U.S. are the entities that will likely have to pay up if a U.S. citizen wins in court.
“The trouble is where you collect. There are no Cuban assets on the ground here,” Freyre said. “If you allow lawsuits against foreign entities like Canadian or Spanish entities, some of those entities may have assets in the U.S. and that’s an entirely different calculation.”
Freyre said the impacts of Wednesday’s expected decision are also limited for Cuban-Americans who may have had their residence confiscated by the Cuban government.
“You cannot claim for residential property,” Freyre said. “There is no widespread ability to file claims.”

Members of Congress have also been alerted to the decision, the administration official said.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott called on the White House to implement Title III and Title IV on Tuesday.
“I’m calling on the Administration to fully implement Title III and IV of the Libertad Act to show Castro that his era of influence in Latin America is over,” Scott said in a statement. “Allowing American citizens to sue for stolen property in Cuba and denying foreign nationals involved in trafficking stolen property entry into the United States is a huge step toward cutting off the money supply to the Castro Regime. It’s a step we have to take NOW as we fight to bring a new day of freedom and democracy to Cuba and all of Latin America.”
Asked whether the enforcement of Helms-Burton reflects White House concern over close ties between Cuba and Venezuela, the official said the administration is troubled about each government independently, but that their ongoing exchange of subsidized oil for goods and services that help Nicolas Maduro maintain power in Venezuela “simply exacerbates the problem.”
“In the past three months, the pressure [on Maduro] has really gone to a maximum pressure campaign,” the official said. “The economic effects continue every day — every day there are less petroleum sales.”

“I don’t see how Maduro stays in power at that level” of pressure, the official added, claiming the Venezuelan government would soon reach a “flex point.”
The announcement and visit by Bolton was described as “part two” of Bolton’s “Troika of Tyranny” pitch delivered in Miami days before the 2018 election. President Donald Trump almost assuredly needs to win Florida if he wants a second term, and pleasing anti-Castro Cubans in Miami could help him garner goodwill in a key constituency in the nation’s largest swing state.
“Allowing U.S. citizens to sue regime for confiscated property in Cuba is the right thing to do,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime proponent of implementing the Helms-Burton Act.
But Freyre questioned whether the decision to allow lawsuits hurts multilateral efforts to oust Maduro.
“How do you allow lawsuits against a country like Canada who has been supportive of efforts in Venezuela and maintain Canada as an ally?”

 

In major shift, Trump to allow lawsuits against foreign firms in Cuba

Trump

Reuters

The Trump administration will allow lawsuits in U.S. courts for the first time against foreign companies that use properties Communist-ruled Cuba confiscated since Fidel Castro’s revolution six decades ago, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The major policy shift, which will be announced on Wednesday, could expose U.S., European and Canadian companies to legal action and deal a blow to Cuba’s efforts to attract more foreign investment. It is also another sign of Washington’s efforts to punish Havana over its support for Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton on Wednesday will explain the administration’s decision in a speech in Miami and will also announce new sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries he has branded a “troika of tyranny,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It is unclear, however, whether such property claims will be acceptable in U.S. courts. The European Union has already warned it could lodge a challenge with the World Trade Organization.
Trump threatened in January to allow a controversial law that has been suspended since its creation in 1996, permitting Cuban Americans and other U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies doing business in Cuba over property seized in decades past by the Cuban government.
Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been fully waived by every president over the past 23 years due to opposition from the international community and fears it could create chaos in the U.S. court system with a flood of lawsuits.
The complete lifting of the ban could allow billions of dollars in legal claims to move forward in U.S. courts and likely antagonize Canada and Europe, whose companies have significant business holdings in Cuba.
It could also affect some U.S. companies that began investing in the island, an old Cold War foe, since former President Barack Obama began a process of normalizing relations between the two countries from the end of 2014.
U.S.-Cuban relations have nosedived since Trump became president, partially rolling back the detente initiated by Obama and reverting to Cold War rhetoric. A six-decade U.S. economic embargo on Cuba has also remained officially intact.
The Cuban government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the country’s National Assembly, meeting over the weekend, declared the Helms-Burton Act “illegitimate, unenforceable and without legal effect”.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in a speech on Saturday that the United States “has pushed the precarious relations with our country back to the worst level … trying to activate the hateful Helms-Burton Law, which aims to return us in principle to … when we were a slave nation of another empire.”
Trump is going ahead despite protests by European leaders to U.S. counterparts.
The U.S. official dismissed the EU’s warning of a possible WTO challenge and a cycle of counter-claims in European courts as doomed to fail.

Cuba Has Hijacked Venezuela

Venezuelans are not victims of a single dictatorship, but of two.

By Julio Borges
Mr. Borges is a Venezuelan opposition leader.

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — I was a member of the opposition coalition that participated in the talks with Nicolás Maduro’s government between 2017 and 2018. For more than a year we tried to work out a deal that would put an end to the chaos deepening in Venezuela. But no solution is viable as long as the country remains tethered to Cuba.

Mural in Caracas

The communications minister and government representative in the talks, Jorge Rodríguez, reiterated Venezuela’s desire that it receive the same treatment as Cuba. This declaration laid bare the pretension of the regime: a dictatorship that is accepted and ultimately gets its way, like the one Raúl Castro inherited from his brother and passed on to Miguel Díaz-Canel.

But Cuba is more than an inspiration and a role model for the Chavismo government. The island nation has hijacked Venezuela and is effectively holding it hostage. Important government decisions are being made in Havana, not in Caracas. The Castro regime’s tentacles extend to several Venezuelan governmental institutions, including the armed forces and the offices of immigration and health services.

In a speech at the United Nations in October, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said that at least 22,000 Cubans have infiltrated Venezuela’s government and its institutions. They have done so, he explained, holding important positions in government agencies and in the national security and intelligence services.

The relationship has proved lucrative for the Cuban government. Between 40,000 and 50,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil are sent to Cuba daily, despite the fact that Venezuelan oil production has declined more than 60 percent in recent years. Venezuela’s economic subsidy reached its peak at about 12 percent of Cuba’s gross domestic product.

During the boom years, around 90,000 barrels of crude oil daily, representing $9 billion annually, were sent to Cuba. Some estimate that over approximately 15 years, Venezuela has subsidized $35 billion in oil to Cuba.

The country was brought further into debt when Mr. Maduro bought $440 million in foreign crude and sent it to Cuba between 2017 and 2018. The problem, therefore, is not a potential invasion of Venezuela by a foreign power; for over a decade, Cuba has been a parasite, stripping us of our resources.

Continue reading Cuba Has Hijacked Venezuela

She endured two decades of hell in Castro’s prisons. Now she faces foreclosure in Miami

This article published in the Miami Herald is a heartbreaking story of an 80 years old Cuban lady worthy of reading to the end.

Miami Herald

When Ed Goldfarb pulled up at the modest three-bedroom house a few blocks off Southwest Eighth Street, he knew there would probably be a sad story lurking inside. Homes headed to foreclosure almost always have one, and as a real-estate agent specializing in so-called short sales — where a bank is trying to quickly sell a foreclosed house to get it off the books — Goldfarb had heard them all: Lost job. Death in the family. Divorce. Drugs and booze. Just plain old bad luck.

Goldfarb usually sympathized with the occupants of the homes he sold, but there wasn’t anything he could do for them. He was not a financial adviser (and the people in the houses were always hopelessly past that point anyway) or a grief counselor, just a guy there to get some pictures to show prospective buyers. He never stuck around longer than it took to snap the photos.

But this one was different. When an elderly woman opened the door, Goldfarb’s gaze was immediately riveted by a framed book jacket hanging on the wall: “Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women’s Prison.” A solemn but graceful young female face peered out from a corner of the cover.

“What’s that about?” asked Goldfarb, unable to contain his curiosity. “About me,” replied the woman, 80-year-old Ana Rodríguez, now six decades or so past the age of her photo on the cover. “About my time in Fidel Castro’s prisons.”

And for the next 45 minutes, it all poured out — everything Ana Rodríguez, Cuba’s longest-held female political prisoner, endured during her nearly two decades of incarceration:

The beatings. The hunger strikes. The brutal days of forced labor under the broiling Cuban sun; the endless months in the suffocating dark of sealed cells. The ferocious guards, the wily rats, the eternal cockroaches.

After he’d heard her story, Goldfarb went home with a copy of the book and a steely conviction that he could not help a bank take this woman’s home.

Ana Rodríguez’s life story — medical student, longtime Cuban political prisoner, exile in Miami — was turned into a book. Now 80, she is facing another crisis.

“Oh my God, she’s paid her dues in life, so many times over,” Goldfarb told a reporter last week. “I think she’s way beyond a hero. This can’t be the way her life ends, living in a car. …

“I’ve spent a day in jail, twice, for mouthing off during divorce cases. And I can tell you that you don’t want to do one day in jail. Twenty years, nobody should ever have to endure that. We’ve got to help her.”

Goldfarb has been writing letters, calling bankers and churning out press releases trying to work out a deal to keep Rodríguez in her home, which is snarled in a thicket of bad loans and worse luck.

Earlier this month, in a last-ditch effort, he created a gofundme account for her. Goldfarb figures it would take $300,000 for Rodríguez to regain control of her home and avoid her Plan B, which is to live in her car.

“I know it’s a lot, “ he said. “But I’m hopeful some well-to-do individuals in the Cuban community can step up and help.”

If not, she’s due to be evicted from her home by the end of the month.

Rodríguez appreciates Goldfarb’s help, but seems resigned that she’ll soon be homeless.

Prison taught me that there’s always hope,” she said. “But this will require something much bigger than hope.”

Continue reading She endured two decades of hell in Castro’s prisons. Now she faces foreclosure in Miami

Memories of a Cuban 5th grader: Profe Barbarita & Politics of Hate

Libertas Blog

Living in Cuba no es fácil . La verdad. But when you are a kid, the problems that anguish your parents don’t even faze you. That is, if your parents were good at hiding those problems from you. And boy, were my parents good.
Cuba has many problems. Food problems. Government problems. Se fue la luz y el agua problems. But more importantly, as any Cuban will tell you, we sometimes have a Chivaton problem.
And that’s how I lost my “political” innocence in the 5th grade.
But first, some lessons in Cuban slang:
Chivato or Chivaton: A police informer, a snitch. The quintessential communist government bootlicker who will ruin your day by reporting you to the authorities for no other reason than to joderte el dia!
My 5th grade teacher, Barbarita, was a Chivaton(a). She was the real deal. I distinctly remember her tears of joy when the U.N had just voted to adopt another one of its useless resolutions condemning the Cuban Embargo.
That rare type of Cuban that you can’t find anymore. The one that doesn’t have to fake a smile at the pro-government marches where employees are coerced to attend. The type who, until this day, unironically refer to Fidel Castro as “Comandante en Jefe”.
Barbara genuinely believed in La revolución, even when La revolución had stopped believing in her.
But what can I say, she was a pleasant person and an exceptional teacher. A woman who in the early 2000s must have been somewhere in her late 40s. Raised during the Cold-war, and like many other Cubans, a survivor of the infamous Periodo Especial. She was battled hardened by material necessity , and if she still believed in Fidel’s Communism after all that, she wasn’t about to change.
Barbara teaches us a lesson about hate.
Sadly, one of my earliest memories of the filth that is ideological orthodoxy comes from her.
I remember that it was a slow day at school. We had just finished all of our assignments and Profe Barbarita allowed the class to get into groups so that we could talk. She was sitting at her desk, reading a book, lost in the pages…..or so we thought.
At some point, in between our prepubescent screeching and super-interesting 5th grader conversations – one of us, probably not me, steered the conversation towards a subject of “Anti-revolutionary” character. Who knows what was said, maybe we made fun of Fidel’s beard, or repeated an anti-government comment we heard at home the day before.
It doesn’t matter. It was enough for Barbara to spring from her creaky chair like a bat out of hell.

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