By Frances Robles Miami Herald
Pedro Miyares has been listening to his 88-year-old father’s mantra for more than four decades: When Fidel Castro falls, you have to go back to fight for the family farm.
The Miyares family lost a home and a 2,248-acre rice farm and cattle ranch in Manzanillo to Fidel Castro’s revolution, and they want to get them back.
‘‘That land was an inheritance that was in our family for 200 years,’’ Miyares said. “That’s very sentimental for us.’‘
Now a Jesuit University in Nebraska has prepared a 277-page report to help the United States and Cuba wrestle with the thorny issue of property claims should Cuban communism end.
Shortly after the socialist revolution took place in 1959, Castro not only nationalized virtually all foreign-owned properties but also confiscated homes, land and businesses belonging to Cubans who eventually fled to Florida.
Released Thursday by Creighton University, the federally funded report recommended the United States help choose judges for a special Cuban court tasked with compensating Cuban families who lost their property to the Castro government.
It also suggests a separate international tribunal to hear the claims of American companies and citizens who lost property and had their claims certified by the Washington-based Foreign Claims Settlement Commission during the 1960s and 1970s.
Created in 1967, the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission worked for six years and certified nearly 6,000 claims totaling $1.8 billion by U.S. citizens who lost everything from old Chevrolets to rum distilleries.
The money to pay the claims—likely some three to four cents on the dollar—would come from financing by the United States and the international community that would help trigger economic development in a post-Castro Cuba.
While some hailed the report as proof that the highest levels of the Bush administration are paying attention to a key issue, the Creighton University report was met with skepticism by some experts, who condemned it as another example of American presumptive meddling in what will ultimately be another nation’s decision to make.
‘‘What I have seen so far is the U.S. has handed the government of Cuba a stick with which to beat the United States for its presumptuousness to seek compensation for people who don’t have a right to make international claims,’’ said Washington lawyer Robert Muse, who represents some of the largest U.S. claimants against Cuba.
‘‘Nothing in international law even remotely supports this,’’ he said.
While the report recommends a mechanism for compensating Cubans who lost property, international law makes it clear that the United States has no say in the cases of Cuban families who were not U.S. citizens when they lost their property.
Those thousands of families would have to settle their claims directly with Cuba—and should not get their homes back if people are currently living in them, the report said.
‘‘While claims by this group are not supported specifically by either domestic or international law, politically and economically their claims should not be ignored,’’ the report states. “If the property claims of the Cuban American exile community are left unresolved their political and economic power could be turned against stabilizing a new government in Cuba.’‘
Researchers also cautioned that they anticipate resistance from Cuba’s large black population, who may resent a mostly white exile community coming back to reclaim land or money.
After two years of study and $375,000, the Creighton report underscored the difficulty the Cuban government will have settling old scores and making compromises that will satisfy not just nostalgic families like the Miyareses, but multinational corporations with millions at stake.
When the grant to study the property problem was first announced, Cuba experts were stunned to see the U.S. Agency for International Development offer it to academics with no background in Cuba policy or property issues.
The university’s only expertise, critics said, was being the alma mater of former AID administrator Adolfo Franco.
The $750,000 grant was eventually cut in half, which reduced how much the university could research, said lead investigator Patrick Borchers, vice president for academic affairs.
‘‘We tried our very best to look at this from the outside,’’ he said in a telephone interview. “We hope we’ve done enough research and given enough backup so when time comes to talk about this, whoever is in charge and in position to make policy decisions will have the benefit of our thinking on it.’‘
Ultimately, he agreed that there would be little the United States could do to force creation of the tribunals if a democratically-elected Cuban government did not go along with it.
‘‘Cuba is a sovereign nation,’’ he said.
But Miyares was philosophical about reclaiming his family’s property: “If they give us something, it’s always better than nothing.’’