Using a port confiscated by the Fidel Castro regime in 1960 can cost four cruise lines dearly. A judge in Miami on Friday ruled that Norwegian Cruise Lines must pay US company Havana Docks Corporation $110 million (just over 100 million euros) for using the facilities it owned before Cuba nationalized them. And it won’t be the only casualty: Carnival, MSC and Royal Caribbean, also based in Florida, are all facing payment of similar sums that could bring the bill to a total of $400 million, according to the Miami-based newspaper. herald.
Since it is not known whether the legal resources of the shipping companies are thriving, the case sets a dangerous precedent for those companies that have made fortunes from property confiscated by Cuba. In 2019, the Donald Trump administration lifted the six-month extended stay of Article III of the Helms-Burton Act, which allowed US companies to pursue lawsuits related to the expropriation of assets during the 1959 Castro Revolution in Cuba, like Havana, to file docks in court has managed.
Some estimates put the four cruise lines in revenue of around €1,000 million from using the port. The cruise lines argue that their operations were legal at all times because they had US government permits and licenses, but Judge Beth Bloom, who has now ordered the cruise lines to pay, pointed out back in March that that argument may not be true enough. “The fact that [el Departamento del Tesoro] Issuing permits for travel to Cuba and the executive branch, including the President, encouraging defendants to do so does not automatically absolve defendants from liability when engaging in tourism prohibited by law,” he wrote.
According to the US-Cuba Economic and Trade Council, quoted by Portal, there are 5,913 certified claims on assets seized in Cuba worth about $2,000 million, and 44 lawsuits are protected under the Helms-Burton Act.
The Spanish hoteliers in the spotlight
When Trump opened the door to sanctions in 2019, many Spanish multinationals present in Cuba held their breath, fearing an avalanche of litigation. Spain is the country with the most joint ventures (from collaborations with Cuban companies) and branches on the island, with a notable presence in tourism – especially in the hotel industry – and in the service sector. So far there have been no serious consequences, but cases are ongoing that could affect them soon.
The most obvious is the one that refers to the Iberostar chain. A US court ruled in November that a lawsuit can be brought against the hotel company based in Palma de Mallorca. The complaint was filed in January 2020 by María Dolores Canto Marí, who alleges that in 1961 Cuba took over the Hotel El Imperial, owned by her family since 1909, and the land on which it stands, in the city of Santiago de Cuba . Iberostar has managed it since 1996, now renamed Cubanacan Imperial. The Spanish company has tried to paralyze the court process on the basis of a European rule that would protect it from Helms-Burton and succeeded for three years, but the North American judiciary has reactivated this front. Other big players in the industry, such as NH and Meliá, also received complaints, although the small number of those who have pursued legal action has been a relief for the tourism industry.
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