Original title: Study: How to Recoup Assets in Cuba
By OSKAR GARCIA Associated Press Writer
Federal officials planning for a post-Fidel Castro Cuba were sent recommendations Thursday on how to handle a decades-old puzzle: recouping billions of dollars for those whose assets were seized after the dictator took power in 1959.
A group of Creighton University scholars commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development based their advice on speculation of how Cuba will move forward after Castro dies.
Castro, 81, has not been out in public since July last year, announcing he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was ceding power to his younger brother, Raul.
The United States’ relationship with Cuba could be renewed if Cuba shows signs of a burgeoning democracy. But Cuba is obligated by international law to compensate owners of seized property, and settling American claims would be essential to rebuilding the tie.
U.S. officials were expected to use the study to help them decide how the country should move forward with the island nation, depending on how Cuba progresses.
“This is a comprehensive report, but I must emphasize it’s a starting point because there will be a lot of issues, particularly in terms of the process and the legal instruments to be developed,” said Elaine Grigsby, director of the International Development Agency’s Cuba Transition to Democracy Program.
Grigsby said that both a new Cuban government and the United States would have to agree on the process in order to settle the claims.
The Creighton scholars tasked to build a model to handle claims from Americans, Cuban exiles and current Cubans said in their report that the United States needs to make sure the new Cuban economy doesn’t get destroyed while trying to square away claims.
“The worst possible outcome would be if the claims process were contributing to economic misery on the island once there was a real change on the islands,” said Patrick Borchers, the team leader and vice president for academic affairs for the university.
Nearly 6,000 American claims have been determined valid by the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, which the study values at about $6 billion in current dollars, with interest. The claims are wide-ranging, from homes to corporate assets, sugar mills and oil refineries.
The study suggests that if Cuba tried to pay the claims back in hard currency, it would be able to pay only a few cents on the dollar, and Cuban assets frozen in the United States would hardly dent the claims.
Instead, the study suggests settling claims in ways that will foster Cuba’s growth, by giving claimants development rights and tax breaks or other opportunities for financial gain.
“It’s not going to be a one-size-fits all deal,” Borchers said, but settling the claims is linked directly with lifting the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
More claims come from Cuban-Americans who were Cuban when communism took hold. Their claims were not certified by the same commission that judged American claims, the study said.
The study presents two models to handle claims from each group:
The tribunal that would handle American claims would have nine members: three each from the United States and Cuba and three more picked by the six already on the panel. Its rulings would be final, enforceable in both Cuba and the United States.
A Cuban special claims court would handle claims from Cuban exiles and would be independent within the Cuban judicial system with judges appointed in consultation with the United States.
The study says Cuban claims against the Cuban government would be a “wholly internal” matter, but United States should make sure Cuba’s solution doesn’t end up hurting the people.
The study says many experts believe a slow transition will start toward the end of Raul Castro’s regime and move forward under a new socialist regime. The study says a quick transition to democracy is unlikely.
Miami businessman Teo Babun, whose family lost a cement plant, some mining properties and shipping and lumber rights in 1960 to the expropriation, says that’s a bold assumption.
“That’s pretty darn gutsy for a bunch of lawyers to be predicting _ that’s the job of the U.S. State Department to make,” he said.
A request for comment from the U.S. State Department by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.
Babun has followed Cuba’s situation closely as the chief executive of Babun Group Consulting Inc., a group seeking business opportunities in a new Cuba. He also is president of Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach for Cuba.
Babun praised the study’s effort but said it made some bad assumptions and came to some conclusions that won’t work, like having the United States help pick judges for Cuban exile claims.
“Why in the world would the Cuban government appoint judges in consultation in the United States if it’s an all Cuban court,” Babun said. “I would think other countries would be insulted by that statement.”
Borchers said he did not expect the models remain unchanged.
“The hope is that when the day comes _ and it eventually will _ that there’d be some ... starting point for the discussions,” Borchers said.