By Jim Loney | Reuters
A 95-year-old Cuban exile sued the French resort chain Club Med on Thursday for building and operating a luxury hotel on Cuban beach property she says was seized from her family in Fidel Castro’s communist revolution.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, claims Paris-based Club Mediterranee made millions running the Club Med Varadero for six years before selling the property last year to Spanish hotel firm Grupo Pinero.
Lawyers said they would also sue Grupo Pinero over the same piece of property and planned legal action against the Sandals Caribbean resort chain and Spain’s Iberostar over hotels on other land owned by the family.
The suit also alleges Club Med violated the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act. The United States imposed an economic embargo against Cuba more than 40 years ago in response to Castro’s takeover of the Caribbean island 90 miles south of Florida.
Elvira de la Vega Glen, of Miami, and her son Robert Glen, 60, of Plano, Texas, said Club Med built a 337-room, five-star resort on undeveloped beachfront owned by her family for decades until it was seized shortly after the 1959 revolution.
“I was out of my mind,” Elvira de la Vega Glen said of the moment she learned Club Med had built the hotel. “I was very emotional about it. Club Med had no right to be there at all.”
The lawsuit names as defendants Club Mediterranee, S.A., and Club Mediterranee Group, a subsidiary.
The company said it had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on the specific allegations. It said one of its foreign subsidiaries operated a Varadero resort until its management agreement ended more than a year ago.
“Club Mediterranee S.A. and its subsidiaries believe they have always acted in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations relating to this matter,” the company said. “Club Mediterranee S.A. believes the claims ... are without merit and intends to vigorously defend itself.”
The hotel was built in the 1990s during a surge in tourism construction at Varadero, about 80 miles east of Havana. Cuba was rushing to fortify its tourism industry after the demise of its sponsor, the Soviet Union, hobbled its economy.
The lawsuit claims the French company “unjustly enriched” itself by using an illegally confiscated property to make money. The family’s lawyer, Stuart Newberger, said the lawsuit had not made a specific claim for monetary damages but sought access to Club Med’s books to find out exactly how much the company made on the property.
“Anything they got illegally, we are entitled to get,” he said.