BY FRANCES ROBLES | Miami Herald
A Nebraska law school has won a $750,000 federal grant to tackle what’s likely to be a thorny issue in Cuba policy: once Fidel Castro is gone, what will be done with the thousands of properties he confiscated from Americans 45 years ago?
The Creighton University School of Law in Omaha won a two-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Cuba Transition to Democracy Program to come up with a model property claims tribunal.
The bilateral U.S.-Cuba tribunal would try to settle the thousands of claims now worth about $6 billion that have amassed since Cuban leader Fidel Castro nationalized more than 6,000 U.S. properties in 1960. The owners range from Texaco to United Fruit Sugar.
The idea of the grant is to create a model that post-Castro Cuba can use to settle the claims.
‘‘We don’t have a dog in that fight. We are academics who know something about this kind of thing trying to offer our thoughts on how this would work,’’ said Patrick Borchers, dean of Creighton School of Law. “These are events that took place over 40 years ago. That’s going to be a big project.’‘
Although Creighton has no expertise in Cuba study, Borchers said the school is known for its international-law programs. Borchers, an expert in conflict of laws, will lead a team of six people, including political scientists and dispute-resolution specialists. The money would subsidize part of their salaries and pay for computer software and travel.
‘‘One of the major issues at the time of transition will be property confiscations,’’ said David Mutchler, director of USAID’s Cuba program. “People have done papers and studied it, but this is attempting to systematically look at a lot of issues.’‘
Adolfo Franco, USAID’s assistant administrator for Latin America, will formally award the grant at a ceremony next week at Creighton, his alma mater.
News of the grant drew mixed reactions.
‘‘USAID just wasted $750,000,’’ said Teo A. Babun, a businessman who established a private claims register in 1999. “It doesn’t take rocket science to see what’s already available and pull it together.’‘
The Cuban-American National Foundation has stressed that it’s important not to give the impression that exiles would return home to boot people out of their homes, or that Washington will be calling the shots.
‘‘Obviously, there is going to have to be a process, and that process would have to be established by Cubans on the island,’’ said foundation director Alfredo Mesa. “We welcome the study, as long as it recognizes that those decisions have to be made by Cubans under a sovereign state where there is rule of law.’’