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Posted August 07, 2006 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By TIM PADGETT | Time Magazine

(Note: original title Cuba After Castro: Can Miami’s Exiles Reclaim Their Stake? but I changed it to something that I think is more appropriate)

Alberto Beguiristain was once ready to risk his life to regain what he lost in Cuba. In 1960, a year after Fidel Castro took power, the revolution confiscated Beguiristain’s large Spanish colonial house and two sugar mills in Sagua la Grande, east of Havana. Beguiristain recalls the “restitution” Castro offered: “He said I could leave the island alive.” So in 1961, working for the CIA, Beguiristain ran the first arms shipments from Florida to anti-Castro insurgents for their disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. He was captured and says he would have been executed had he not escaped.

Today Beguiristain, 72, who owns an insurance agency in Miami, still wants his Cuba property, which he values in the tens of millions of dollars. But after almost five decades, he hears that his house has been torn down and one of his mills dismantled. He concedes that when Castro dies, he probably won’t be hopping into an armed speedboat to rescue his ancestral patrimony, as some exiles once threatened to do; instead he’ll be retaining a high-powered attorney, hoping to broker some sort of compensation settlement from a transition government. “I want to take part in reviving Cuba’s sugar industry,” he says, “but I know it won’t be easy to do even after Castro is gone.”

Castro, who turns 80 August 13 and is, say official communiques, recovering from major intestinal surgery, last week handed provisional power to his younger brother and defense minister, Raul Castro. At first, Miami’s politically potent Cuban exiles exulted in the streets of Little Havana. But when the reality sunk in that Fidel is most likely still alive — and that his communist dictatorship may well endure under Raul even if he’s not — it also reminded many Cuban-Americans that their once ardent hopes of reclaiming confiscated property could be, as one Pentagon analyst says, “a pipe dream.” A report last month by the Bush Administration’s Commission For Assistance to a Free Cuba warns, “No issue will be more fraught with difficulty and complexity” during the post-Castro transition — even if democracy is eventually restored on the island.

That is no doubt just how the impish Fidel wanted it. His stunning and sometimes brutal expropriation campaign seized homes, businesses, farms and factories from tens of thousands of Cubans and scores of U.S. corporations, assets whose combined worth was $9 billion in 1960 and perhaps more than $50 billion today. (It was, in fact, the single biggest grab of U.S.-owned property in history.) When Fidel offered little if any restitution, the U.S. retaliated with an economic embargo against Cuba in 1962, which remains in place today.

But 44 years later, as Cuban-Americans continue to clutch yellowing deeds and titles, the likelihood of ever recovering the actual properties has dimmed like a Havana brownout. No one knows how many houses in Cuba are still claimed by exiles; but more than one family often occupies each home there, especially since housing construction in impoverished Cuba is light-years behind the island’s population growth. If Cuban-Americans show up in even a democratized Cuba demanding those dwellings, they’re likely to face the wrath of Cubans who tend to resent imperious exiles as much as they disdain Fidel. Says the Pentagon analyst, “The Cubans say, Screw you. You’re not getting this property back.’” Florida Senator Mel Martinez, an exile whose grandfather’s soda bottling company was confiscated, agrees that while post-Castro Cuba must “honor property rights, people should not be thrown out of homes.”

That issue could be moot anyway. Cuban-Americans a generation ago may have waxed romantic about their gorgeous and breezy casas in Havana neighborhoods like Miramar. But today, says Elena Freyre, head of the Cuban-American Defense League in Miami, “90% of them no longer desire to go back and live there. Their roots are too deep in the U.S. And when they go back and see the sad reality of what Cuba is now, a lot of them will be on the first flight back to Miami.”

Still, those exiles will clamor for some sort of compensation from a democratic transition government —payments the U.S., ironically, could end up bankrolling as a major aid donor. They could be similar, say U.S. officials, to reparations made in post-communist Eastern Europe, which in some cases let original home or building owners regain title to their property as long as they agreed to let the current occupants stay under a rent control agreement; and given Cuba’s economic ruin, those who do regain industrial or commercial properties may be required to pump new investment into them.

Compensation is especially important to Cuban-Americans who lost large holdings — like the De la Camaras, whose patriarch Jose Ignacio was actually locked in a room by Che Guevara in 1960 and forced to sign over the assets of the oil company they co-directed. Today the family is trying to get the Bush Administration to pull the U.S. visas of execs from the European, Canadian and South American oil firms that operate on their property today, hoping to leverage some financial settlement from them. With billions of barrels of potential new Cuban crude reserves being discovered now, that effort has taken on a new urgency. “We’re not seeking the whole cake,” says the deceased Jose Ignacio de la Camara’s son, Francisco, 74, of Miami. “Just our fair share of it.”

Their only legal recourse is the 1996 Helms-Burton Act: it makes foreign firms liable, at the President’s discretion, to U.S. lawsuits or forfeiture of U.S. visas if they do business in Cuba on property confiscated from Cuban-Americans or U.S. companies. But so far not even President Bush has been willing to let a Helms-Burton suit go forward, largely for fear of alienating allies like Spain that have big investments in Cuba. “The Administration just won’t pull the trigger,” says Nicolas Gutierrez, 42, a Cuban-American attorney in Miami who represents the De la Camaras, as well as other exile families in suits against foreign firms operating in Cuba on confiscated property — including one, the Sanchez-Hills, that owned oceanfront tracts in Cuba now occupied by luxury resorts run by European firms.

Some Cuba analysts wonder if Raul, who has signaled he wants better relations with the U.S., may be open to restitution if it could get the U.S. to lift the embargo. Gutierrez doubts it. “We’ll probably have to go through four, five, six, seven incarnations of this regime before we see change,” he says. If so, it could keep those exile speedboats floating in their Miami marinas for many more years, as unlikely to move as the Cubans currently living in properties confiscated almost half a century ago.

—With reporting by Douglas Waller/Washington and Siobhan Morrissey/Miami

  1. Follow up post #1 added on August 07, 2006 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I am not Cuban American. I have no personal ties to any Cuban Americans.

    I have read many personal accounts of property nationalization by Fidel Castro and do not think that Castro should have taken all personal property.

    With that said, I would like to say to all old Cuban exiles: GET OVER IT!

    Your property was nationalized/stolen over 40 years ago. You are the ones who kept the Embargo going so you have prohibited yourselves from dealing with Cuba and perhaps negotiating a settlement.

    If there is a statute of limitations in international law, it has surely passed by now. Also, there are REAL Cubans who have stayed in their country struggling with Castro’s government so they are now the “owners” of all the property.

    So, once again, I ask you all, please give up your failed Plan A Embargo and your pipe dream of getting your property back. You should just hope to be allowed back into Cuba if/when the time comes.

    You really don’t think the Cuban government is going to give you visas to invade their country with lawyers.

    Cuba is THEIR country and NOT YOUR country.

    Remember that.



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  2. Follow up post #2 added on August 07, 2006 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Then there is this article about some exiles may just give up their claims

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-miami2aug02,1,7980813.story?coll=la-headlines-nation&track=crosspromo



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  3. Follow up post #3 added on August 08, 2006 by Ralph

    I am cuban-dutch and I have many kith and kin in Miami and we find very
    insane all those aspirations of the hard-core of the cuban exile in usa,
    Their dream are out of question,they have to assume that for their very
    well-being,they are playing what the castrism wants,to fill with more fears
    the cuban in the island with their insanes wishes and dreams,all of them are
    a washout, a big failure.Cojones,han estado comiendo jamon por años,y ahora quieren quitare el hueso a los pobres sufridos hermanos cubanos en la isla,%&#! you.Vendomme.


  4. Follow up post #4 added on August 11, 2006 by Cardenas

    I was born in Cuba and lived under Castro for 13 years before my parents left. I am embarrassed by the display carried out by the Cuban community in Miami when the heard that Fidel was ill. I am even more embarrassed by the attitude that many have of going back and claiming what they had. I firmly believe that they don’t have a right to go back and claim anything. After all, they left and didn’t put up a fight. They have been living “la buena vida” in Florida but feel entitled. Cubans who left the island don’t have a right to make decisions regarding what happens there after Castro. It is up to the Cubans in the island to make decison regarding their future and their government. There are those “politicians” in Miami that think they can go back and decide and have a voice in politics and government. Shame on them! What have they done for Cuba and all the brothers and sisters left on the island? Absolutely nothing but hablar m _ _ _ _ a and kiss Republican politicians’ behinds in the USA.


  5. Follow up post #5 added on December 28, 2006 by deniss devalle

    f you stupid cubans that think exiled cubans shouldnt regaine their prop. that shit was stolen from us our options were die or leave. and my great grandfather waspresident of cuba never was cuba intended to be stolen from its people. but you busca vidas took advantage. who woudnt want free property. give a cat free milk and it’ll never leave either, but he’ll get eaten at your house, like my horses did.


  6. Follow up post #6 added on December 28, 2006 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Deniss,

    Why is it that Cuban American exiles cannot post rational comments here? Seems that it is always the same old story.

    Do you have a plan for removing and relocating Cubans who have been living in their houses for forty years?

    Please enlighten us.



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  7. Follow up post #7 added on January 10, 2007 by Yana

    Don’t you think that what will really happen is that Cuban-Americans will invade Cuba with money, start businesses and exploit the Cubans on the island?
    I believe this is more realistic than getting the proprierty back.
    They have lost touch with their country, many of them have never gone back and all they know is Little Havana and Hialeah. Worste, the Cubans born in the US have been raised with hate, many of them don’t have a clear understanding of their origins or the history of Cuba.
    I respect the suffering of the Cuban people, the separations of the families, the sacrificies they had to make as immigrants in the U.S. but also as oppressees in Cuba. 
    Let’s hope for a free Cuba, free from dictatorships of all kinds.


  8. Follow up post #8 added on January 10, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Well said.

    However, I think the Cuban government will keep tight control over property and business licenses if/when it opens up. I’m sure there will be little check boxes on any application like where do you live, where were you born, references etc etc.

    Cubans from Miami might be shut out from any future in the new Cuba.



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