Monday, November 30, 2015

Cuban Property Claims Threaten Reconciliation

Slate has a nice piece about the background and increasing importance of American claims against the Cuban government:

After Fidel Castro took power in 1959 he nationalized the Cuban economy. He seized the sugar mills. The power plants. Oil refineries, department stores, hotels. Some of these belonged to Cubans. But others belonged to American citizens doing business on the island. Within a couple of years, all the Americans in Cuba fled, leaving this property in Castro’s hands.

Governments expropriate stuff all the time. Even capitalist governments. In America, we call this eminent domain, and the state compensates the people it takes the stuff from. Castro, too, acknowledged the principle that he owed these people something in return. But he never paid up. Eisenhower tried to force him. So did Kennedy. No dice. And so, in retaliation, we slammed Cuba with a trade embargo—one that’s now lasted more than 50 years.

Starting in 1964, the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission created a registry to record the assets yoinked from Americans who’d been in Cuba. (The FCSC calls itself “a quasi-judicial, independent agency within the Department of Justice which adjudicates claims of U.S. nationals against foreign governments.” Since its establishment in 1954, it has completed claims resolutions against countries including Libya, Panama, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam.) After Castro took power, 5,913 individual Cuba claims were certified. They were assessed at a total value of $1.9 billion at the time they were seized.

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