Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims   

The United States has damage claims against Cuba and visa versa. This post will review those claims and propose a method for resolving them.

U.S. Claims

Cuba’s Expropriation of Property of U.S. Nationals. [1]

According to a U.S. Government report, “in 1959 and 1960 . . . the Government of Cuba after the Castro regime came into power . . . effectively seized and took into state ownership most of the property in that country owned by the [U.S.] and its nationals, with the exception of the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. No provision was made by the Cuban Government for the payment of compensation for such property as required under the generally accepted rules of international law.” (Cuba, however, has paid similar claims by Canada, France, Spain and Switzerland.) [2]

In response, a federal statute, the Cuba Claims Act, was enacted in 1964 to amend the International Claims Settlement Act of 1949 to grant the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States (FCSC), a quasi-judicial, independent agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, jurisdiction to receive and determine in accordance, with applicable substantive law, including international law, the amount and validity of certain claims by U.S. nationals of the against the Government of Cuba.

The covered claims for this purpose were those arising since January 1, 1959, for (a) “losses resulting from the nationalization expropriation, intervention or other taking of, or special measures directed against, property including any rights or interests therein owned wholly or partially, directly or indirectly at the time by nationals of the [U.S.];” (b) debts for merchandise furnished or services rendered by U.S. nationals; and (c) disability or death of U.S. nationals resulting from actions taken by, or under the authority of, the Government of Cuba since January 1, 1959.

The statute, however, did not provide for the payment of claims against the Government of Cuba, but only for the Commission to determine the validity and amounts of such claims. After its determinations, the Commission certified its findings to the Secretary of State for possible use in future negotiations with the Government of Cuba.

In signing the statute on October 16, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson said: “The Castro regime has appropriated over $1 billion worth of property of [U.S.] nationals in total disregard for their rights. These unlawful seizures violated every standard by which the nationals of the free world conduct their affairs. I am confident that the Cuban people will not always be compelled to suffer under Communist rule-that one day they will achieve freedom and democracy. I am also confident that it will be possible to settle claims of American nationals whose property has been wrongfully taken from them.”[3]

The Commission had two programs for such claims against the Cuban government, resulting in the total submission of 8,821 claims and the Commission’s determinations that 5,913 were valid with a total principal value of $1,902,202,285 (or $1.9 billion) plus 6% per annum from the date of the loss. Although 90% of these claims were filed by individuals, the largest ones are by corporations: Cuba Electric (owned by Americans),  $ 268 million; IT&T, $131 million; and Exxon, $71 million.

Recent commentaries suggest that with interest the claims now total nearly $7 billion. [4]

Default Judgment Against Cuba for Deaths of U.S. Pilots Over International Waters

A prior post about “The Cuban Five” mentioned that Cuban military planes in 1996 shot down two U.S. private planes over international waters near Cuba and killed three of their pilots and that a U.S. federal court entered a default judgment of $187 million against the Government of Cuba for their deaths. That judgment plus interest remains unpaid.

Other Claims.

Any and all other claims for damages by the U.S. against Cuba should also be included and resolved as part of any dispute-resolution procedure.

 Cuba Claims

Alleged Damages from U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba [5]

At the October 2014 session of the U.N. General Assembly, Cuba offered a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade), which overwhelmingly was approved. Speaking for the resolution, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Gonzalez Parrilla, alleged that Cuba was damaged by the embargo and that the damages totaled $1.1 trillion.

The U.S. diplomat at the session obviously disagreed. The diplomat argued that Cuba’s economic difficulties were due to its own policies and that it would not thrive until it committed itself to a free and fair market, allowed unfettered access to information, opened its state-run monopolies and adopted sound economic policies.

Unpaid Rent for Use of Guantanamo Bay.

A prior post mentioned that Cuba for the last 56 years has not cashed the U.S. checks for the annual rent of $4,085 for Guantanamo Bay. This amounts to at least $228,760 for those years plus interest. If Cuba alleges that the annual unpaid rent should be a higher figure, then the total claim obviously would be higher.

Other Claims.

If there are any other damage claims by Cuba against the U.S., then it is fair to believe they will be asserted.

Conclusion

These claims, in my opinion, will not be resolved in negotiations between the two countries. I, therefore, suggest that the parties agree to submit all of their damage claims against each other for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands under its Arbitration Rules 2012 before a panel of three or five arbitrators. A prior post made this recommendation for the expropriation claims,

My experience as a lawyer who handled business disputes in U.S. courts and in international arbitrations leads me to believe that arbitration is the appropriate way to resolve these claims by the two governments. The Permanent Court of Arbitration was established in the late 19th century to resolve disputes between governments. It would be a third-party, neutral administrator of the proceedings and the arbitrators who would be selected would also be neutral. Finally it has an existing set of arbitration rules and procedures.

A 2007 study commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) proposed a treaty or a U.S. presidential executive order to establish a bilateral arbitration tribunal that would be empowered to issue an award compelling Cuba to pay money or to provide tax benefits or other incentives for new investment. This proposal like the one just proposed by this blogger advocates having a neutral third-party decide the outcome of these claims, but it adds the necessity of preparing and agreeing to the composition and rules of a new ad hoc tribunal. [6]

Everyone recognizes that Cuba does not have the financial resources to pay any large claim like the one for expropriation of U.S. nationals’ property in 1959-1960 so any substantial monetary recovery would have to come from a determination that the U.S. was liable to Cuba for damages for the embargo. Otherwise, there would have to be some settlement of the larger expropriation claims with tax or other incentives for entering into new business ventures on the island.

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[1] This section of the post is based upon the Commission’s website’s description of the agency, an overview of the two Cuba programs, a final report on the first program, copies of what it terms “lead decisions” in the programs, decisions on all the claims and a spreadsheet listing all of those claims and their amounts.

[2] Creighton Univ. School of Law & Dep’t of Political Science, Report on the Resolution of Outstanding Property Claims Between Cuba and the United States (2007).

[3] Johnson Signs Bill To Aid Americans In Claims on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 18, 1964); Gordon, The Cuba Claims Act: Progress In the Development of a Viable Valuation Process in the FCSC, 13 Santa Clara Lawyer 624 (1973).

[4] Assoc. Press, Run From Cuba, Americans Cling to Claims for Seized Property, N.Y. Times (Mar. 30, 2015); Assoc. Press, Who Claims What Property Seized in Cuba? Facts and Figures, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2015); Glovin & Olocunnipa, Cuba Property Claims, Yielding Pennies, May Spur Talks, BloombergBusiness (Dec. 22, 2014). There is a Cuba Claim Owners Association.

[5] U.N. Press Release, As General Assembly Demands End to Cuba Blockage for Twenty-Third Consecutive Year, Country’s Foreign Minister Cites Losses Exceeding $1 Trillion (Oct. 28, 2014).

[6] Ayuso, Expropriations, the other outstanding debt in Cuba, El Pais (Jan. 4, 2015); Creighton Univ. School of Law & Dep’t of Political Science, Report on the Resolution of Outstanding Property Claims Between Cuba and the United States (2007).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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