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HavanaJournal.com: Cuban Americans

Lawyers discuss property issues in post-Castro era

Posted May 24, 2005 by Cubana in Cuban Americans.
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CUBAN AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION

Sun, May. 22, 2005

BY OSCAR CORRAL

KEY WEST - Just a day after dissidents in Cuba opened a historic meeting, Cuban Americans here discussed what could become one of the most controversial issues between exiles and Cubans on the island: confiscated property.

The Cuban American Bar Association held its annual meeting this weekend to show solidarity with dissidents and to discuss ways of bringing freedom to Cuba. But the property rights issue, with its complex ethical and moral implications, became one of the hottest topics.

Miami corporate lawyer Nicolas Gutierrez and Johns Hopkins University Economics Professor Ernesto Hernandez-Cata ignited the session by presenting different potential scenarios for the future of confiscated property in a post-Castro Cuba.

‘‘Cuba is going to need a lot more new homes,’’ Gutierrez said, only half-jokingly, when riffing on Cuban-Americans who will go to Cuba seeking to reclaim property where other families may now be living.

‘‘some mix of a restitution and compensation model will be necessary,’’ he said. ``What the Cuban nation decides on property will affect all Cubans.’‘

TRANSITION CHALLENGE

Hernandez said a transitional government in Cuba will have to deal with property rights because foreign nationals and companies ‘‘will not invest one cent in Cuba’’ unless the property rights issues are dealt with.

Gutierrez said he already has several Cuban-American clients who either want their confiscated Cuban properties returned or want to be properly compensated for them.

Restitution could take many shapes.

Gutierrez highlighted the Czech Republic, where people who wanted their properties returned after the fall of the Berlin Wall had to become Czech residents.

Another idea: the Cuban government can let Cubans continue living in homes that are being claimed by Cuban Americans, but force them to pay a stabilized rent to the claimants for a certain period of time.

For years, the Cuban government has tried to instill fear in its people by telling them that if Cuban Americans had their way, they would return to Cuba immediately for their properties and start kicking people out of their homes.

CABA members made it clear that any future dealings with confiscated properties would take into utmost consideration current tenants.

Class-action lawsuits against former Nazi collaborators in Europe may provide international precedent for the return or compensation for property in Cuba in the future, Gutierrez said.

Of course, all of this depends on the eventual formation of a new government in Cuba that would be willing to negotiate with Cuban Americans and other former property owners on this issue.

EMOTIONAL SUBJECT

Miami Lawyer Luis Suarez, a member of CABA and an international law litigator, said the issue of confiscated property presents ‘‘very conflicting emotions’’ for Cubans here and on the island.

‘‘If you’re a Cuban who is living in a home in Cuba, you’re obviously very scared,’’ he said. ``If you’re us, you’re looking at it as a moral and ethical issue.’‘

The CABA conference, which was held at the San Carlos Institute on Duval Street, drew young up-and-comers as well as big names in Cuban-American issues. Among them: El Nuevo Herald Publisher Humberto Castello, who was keynote speaker, and former Cuban American National Foundation director Joe Garcia.

‘‘The principal message from this conference should be one of freedom through laws,’’ Miami lawyer Rafael Peñalver said. ``It’s about bringing freedom to Cuba, not getting property back.’’

Member Comments

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On May 24, 2005, Maceo wrote:

“but FORCE them to pay a stabilized rent to the claimants”


Nice!

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On May 24, 2005, abh wrote:

What are people’ impressions of the plans of this group?  My perspective is that these guys are really clinging to something that has no chance of happening.  I just don’t see Cubans giving up their homes and I don’t see the Cuban Americans having much of a claim to them.

Am I the one being naive?

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On May 24, 2005, YoungCuban wrote:

I’d like to know how they will establish the market value of such properties in a country where there is no market?

 

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On May 24, 2005, Dana Garrett wrote:

It’ about the loot.  It’ always been about the loot for some.  But these people are like those who plan their lives on the fantasy they will win the lottery. 

Castro is just one man.  He doesnít keep the Cuban government in power.  Tens of thousands keep the Cuban government intact and they will continue to have the same interest in keeping it intact long after Castro dies. 

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On May 24, 2005, jesusp wrote:

These Cuban/Americans like Mr. Gutierrez and Mr. Hernandez are like dinosaurs, they are extinct, they just don’t know it.

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On May 24, 2005, bernie wrote:

While mr. gutierrez & mr. hernandez are waiting like
dinosaurs.  They should just try and get back the
property and land the white man took from the INDIANS.
This would be something they could practice on.

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On May 24, 2005, yumaguy wrote:

Hmmmm. Very difficult issue this one. Of course, it should be pointed out the regime itself relocates people and moves them around if they have their eyes set on a certain piece of property. There’ one case I know of a lady who had lived for many years in a nice home (the original owners left for Florida). She was to occupy and look after the house in their absence. This went on unofficially for many years but eventually the govt. made her leave and converted the place to. . . yep, a CDR office.  grin  She had no documentation that this was her home (and in this case it wasn’t) so there was nothing she could do although of course it doesn’t really matter, it’ the regime that calls the shots.

On the other hand, I wonder what would happen in a future Cuba with exiles and such trying to reclaim property? A lot of the homes in Havana are in bad shape. Some might not be repairable or simply not worth it. Sad, but possible: many of those old-style colonial homes could be torn down to build something modern changing the unique look of the city. Or would they keep decaying because few would bother with a fixer-upper? The people who presently live in many of these homes for the most part wouldn’t be able to afford all the renovations that are needed.

And where would the money come to fix the city’ infrastructure? The plumbing sucks. Leaky pipes means thousands of gallons of precious water lost every day. The power grid is unreliable. Almost all PCs need to use a UPS to prevent being damaged from brown-outs and power sags.

What upsets me is thinking (and now my Republican side comes out grin that certain groups in Florida will be pressuring the fedl. govt. for huge funds and handouts to rebuild when the current regime is gone. Instead of slowly and conservatively dismantling the embargo and allowing U.S. $$ to creep in. . . in the end even more U.S. funds (read: handouts payed for by U.S. taxpayers) will be needed in a post-Castro Cuba to fix the mess caused by all the years of socialist decay and U.S. economic sanctions.

Of course, at that point it will be politically correct to do so. Don’t be surprised to see certain hardliners, who supported the embargo so passionately, then use it as reasoning that the country now needs and deserves lots of financial support from the US. . .  wink

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On May 25, 2005, N-jitters wrote:

The compromise and settlement on property issues in East Germany—once the USSR fell—were not struck until after communist law (rules and regulations) became obsolete. Years. Once at that crossroads the path toward a solution was unobstructed and obvious.

The latest angst of the Cuban exile community seems credible albeit near-sighted. But let’ define “angst” for the common good: “anxiety, esp. a general feeling of anxiety produced by awareness of the uncertainties and paradoxes inherent in the state of being human.” (Chambers Dictionary)

We should be directing any energy at present toward assisting our Cuban friends and neighbors on that island to lessen their “angst” during these very difficult times. Where is our human face? Why aren’t we, one on one, down there with wrenches, duct tape and candles in hand? 

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On May 25, 2005, abh wrote:

N-Jitters,
I’m trying to go, but it’ illegal for me.  That makes it quite difficult.  If the embargo was not in effect, maybe Cuba would have more resources to build its own infrastructure, rather than relying on others for help.

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On May 25, 2005, YoungCuban wrote:

Touche ABH!

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On May 25, 2005, yumaguy wrote:

abh, there are ways to go. It’ a little complicated but don’t let Uncle Sam intimidate or scare you. Let me know if you want some advice regarding that.

What bugs me is this: Cuba is just too geographically close to the U.S. for the embargo NOT to have a devastating effect. It’ not like it’ on the other side of the world like North Korea or Iraq (during Saddam). It’ also an island unlike those 2 other examples, making the laws regarding shipping/flow of goods easier to enforce.

Yet the hardliners always use the excuse: but they can do business with Canada, EU, or so-and-so. True, but the COST of doing business is what’ killing them and what discourages a lot of potential customers/suppliers. I won’t go into a lengthy tirade of the deep reach of the Helms-Burton laws and how this generates tremendous economic inertia on Cuba, making such activity on the island much more costly than it has to be. Again, that’ because it’ just a puddle jumper away from us. Cuba is barred from normal participation in the huge flow of goods between U.S. & Latin-America, or Asia & U.S., or even Asia & Latin-America! I personally find it amazing the country has survived this long.

It’ argued that the purpose of this is to starve the regime to extinction. In reality, it just squeezes the “little people” stuck on the island even more. These are the folks I empathize with. Their well-being is completely controlled by the decisions made by their govt. and certain interest groups in the U.S.A.  They have absolutely no influence over those decisions, no say in the matter. . .  Fun, huh?  :-(

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On May 25, 2005, abh wrote:

D.Robledo-Thanx for the offer to help.  I’ve been a few times and have a general idea of how to go, but if you’ve got any specific travel agencies in mind I would like to compare stories…

Halto al bloqueo!

Hasta la victoria siempre.

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On May 25, 2005, yumaguy wrote:

lol, careful where you say that you evil little commie you! wink

In terms of specific agencies, I can’t really say. Just certain tips and advice.

I used to think like you until a couple of months ago. But I’m a realist at heart so I’ve come to the conclusion that until you-know-who dies, ending the embargo is just a pipe dream. After 45+ years, there’ just too much political inertia, people are too set in their ways and thinking. Only a major event can hope to change that. Also, keep in mind that in a bizarre way, the Castro govt. NEEDS the embargo even more than its enemies. The hardliners love to criticize the “tonto útiles” (no need to name anyone now, I’m sure you can think of some examples) but I wonder who is really the “useful idjut” in this bizarre 45+ year drama.

Still, I think a reasonable compromise goal would be to loosen up all the red tape and BS when it comes to selling foods and medicines. Retract the new limits on visitation rights and remittances that were instated last year. All this BS just makes the U.S. look petty - and IMHO is not an ethical or even rational stance with regards to Cuba.

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On May 25, 2005, abh wrote:

If the Castro regime needs the embargo to survive, and we want Castro out, then why don’t we lift it?

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On May 26, 2005, yumaguy wrote:

you’re making too much sense abh. Stop that right now! wink

This is CUBA we’re talking about OK? Things are not supposed to make sense when it comes to that country! Like I said, after 45+ years of the same. . . people’ minds, hearts, and wallets on both sides are so set in their ways, that it will take a major event to cause a paradigm shift, which will in turn change the policies.

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On May 26, 2005, abh wrote:

My experience in Cuba was that the Cubans are thirsty for change.  Meanwhile, I don’t feel that there’ much support in the U.S. for the embargo. Therefore, I think it’ logical to place the blame for the continued suffering of the Cuban people on their former countrymen in Miami who won’t give up their dreams of re-capturing their old houses.

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On May 26, 2005, yumaguy wrote:

abh, I totally understand how you feel and I think you’re partially right in terms of placing blame. I’m sorry if I sounded facetious on a serious issue. Maybe I’m too much of a cynic, that’ why I feel there’ little chance for a serious change until there’ a CHANGE in the regime.

Of course the Cuban people desperately want their situation to improve. It’ depressing to think the country has to be reduced to the state of a Haiti or some other 3rd-world African country before that is going to happen. Yes, there’ little interest for the embargo amongst U.S. citizens who aren’t Cuban-American. But we all know how certain zealot minority interest groups can set policy in DC. This is a nasty conflict going on between 2 groups of Cubans: the elite bureaucrats that run things on the island, and the exile hardliners. It’ been going on for quite a long time and I don’t see either side throwing in the towel just yet.

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On May 30, 2005, waldo wrote:

Yanquis,stay home!

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On May 30, 2005, Dana Garrett wrote:

>>I used to think like you until a couple of months ago. But I’m a realist at heart so I’ve come to the conclusion that until you-know-who dies, ending the embargo is just a pipe dream. After 45+ years, there’ just too much political inertia, people are too set in their ways and thinking<<

I believe this is the latest of the “If only_______ happens, Cuba will change” solutions we’ve heard since the early 60s.  Often these solutions happen and nothing changes.

What will be the solution if, as I suspect, Raul takes over after Castro dies in an orderly transiton?  And after he dies, another orderly transition?

What will happen if Venezuela and Spain continue to assist Cuba benefit from the vast oil reserves in its terrirtorial waters and Cuba becomes an oil exporter?  What then?

What will happen is that a small elite group in Miami and Union City, New Jersey will continue, contrary to the overhwhelming opinion of the majority of USA people, to exercize its stranglehold on USA politics, insist that the embargo remain in place and will continue to proffer new sets of “If only….” solutions. 

In my view, the only solution resides in this:

1. Drop the embargo completely.
2. Restore full diplomatic and trade relations w/ Cuba.
3. Drop all property claims on Cuba and visa versa.
4. Both countries release each other’ political prisoners except those who engaged in acts of terrorism.
5. Return Gitmo to Cuba.
6. The USA prosecutes all organizations that commit illegal operations in Cuba and against Cuba internationally.
7. Then allow both nations to become acquainted w/ each other again based on mutual respect of each otherís sovereignty.

The exchange will help to change Cuba and, this is what so many fear, also will help to change the USA as well.

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On May 30, 2005, bernie wrote:

DANA GARRETT, where did you come from “OUTER SPACE”

This has been the best of the best comments, I have
read about this article, I am definitely on your side.

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On May 30, 2005, jesusp wrote:

Good stuff Dana, sadly, there is not a single American politician with the vision or the courage to put your 7 step plan in motion.

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On May 30, 2005, waldo wrote:

There are several USA politicians that would support Dana’ 7 great points. For example California US Senator Barbara Boxer and US Representatives Jose Serrano and Maxine Waters, however like jesusp says the great majority of the Yanquis politicians are interested only on greed and their personal carreers and would continue with their arrogant antisovereignty and cruelty against the people in Cuba.

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On May 31, 2005, yumaguy wrote:

LOL, I’m out for a few days on holiday and look what happens. . .  grin

Dana, I have a lot of respect for your ethical and rational positions but they are just too idealistic and lovey-dovey. It is a PIPE DREAM! That’ all it is. The reason why Castro needs to die sooner as opposed to later is because hell would freeze over before his enemies would grant him “la gran victoria de la Revoluciûn.” If the embargo is taken down (something that I suspect he doesn’t really want to happen until just before he dies) then he will go down in history as THE ONE leader who challenged the hegemony of the U.S.A., stayed in power till the very end, held back the “mafia”, AND WON.

Not a chance in hell the powers that be in Florida will grant him such a complete moral, political, and economic victory. They HATE Castro too much. This is a deeply personal war. They might be able to make concessions with a Lage or a Roque but NEVER the devil himself.

To think otherwise is just being naive.
IMHO of course. . .  grin

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On May 31, 2005, waldo wrote:

MIAMI YANKIS, STAY HOME!!

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On May 31, 2005, yumaguy wrote:

huh?

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On September 21, 2005, Gallo wrote:

It’ really very simple folks. There will never be reconciliation among the cuban people until justice is served and their is a return or new beginging to the rule of law.  Justice meaning return what is stolen, punish those who violated our human rights (on and off the island) and the re-establishment of the constitution of 1940 which was illegally dissolved.  Where ever there is complex civilization you will find that right and wrong are universally understood, there is nothing confusing about it.

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On September 21, 2005, waldo wrote:

Yankis Stay Home!