HAVANA (Reuters) - Carnival Corp on Thursday became the first company sued for profiting from expropriated Cuban property as the Trump administration piles new sanctions on the Communist-run nation for supporting Venezuela’s embattled government.
The administration last month announced a long dormant section of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act would take effect on May 2 as it ratcheted up the pressure on Venezuela and Cuba.
Under Title III of the Helms Burton Act, waived by previous presidents, anyone whose property was nationalized after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, even if they were not U.S. citizens at the time, can sue any individual or company profiting from their former holdings.
The suit was brought in federal court in Miami by Javier Garcia Bengochea and Mickael Behn. The former holds title to Santiago de Cuba port and the latter to one in Havana used by numerous U.S. cruise lines. Both men are descendants of the original owners.
Lawyer Nick Gutierrez, an adviser to the claimants, said in a telephone interview that Title III recommends claimants notify defendants 30 days before filing suit.
Gutierrez said Carnival was duly notified and thus the suit was filed on Thursday, with others to follow soon.
“I know Bengochea has been in contact with Carnival and later will file suit against other companies including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines,” he said, adding he would also file numerous suits for clients in the coming weeks.
Carnival declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to say it was continuing its normal schedule of cruises to Cuba. It also referred to a statement from the Cruise Lines International Association, an industry lobby, saying the operations of cruise lines that do business with Cuba “falls under the lawful travel exemption under Title 3 of the Helms Burton Act.”
Cuba charges Title III violates international law because its nationalization of property was legal and also because Cuban-Americans were not U.S. citizens when their properties were taken.
All other nations settled their citizens’ property claims decades ago, while 5,913 certified U.S. claims by American citizens at the time of expropriation were never settled.
Canada, the European Union and other countries charge the United States has no jurisdiction over their citizens’ activity in Cuba and they will take the issue to the World Trade Organization, among other actions.
International opposition, and the fear that thousands of suits brought by Cuban-Americans would clog U.S. courts, led previous U.S. presidents to waive implementation of Title III.
Title I and II of the Helm-Burton Act codify all previous sanctions into law and set conditions for the U.S. Congress to lift them.
Title IV bans executives and their families from the United States if they profit from expropriated properties.
Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Tom Brown