Washington, D.C. – The road to the historic re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba on July 25, 2015, was supposed to usher a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations. For the first time in close to a century, a sitting American president visited Cuba and so did many representatives from various American companies. Supporters of the new policy lauded the outreach as a new way forward. Opponents argued it was a mistake and the move to normalize relations without settling the claims was premature.
For American citizens holding thousands of certified claims against the government of Cuba for stolen properties confiscated after the 1959 Communist revolution, there was a hope that they would finally see justice and accountability. The claims were supposedly discussed between both countries for the first time in decades. Yet as of this writing, American taxpayers owed more than $10,000,000,000 by Cuba have yet to be paid what they are owed under U.S. law and under international claims law.
On October 10, 2018, Poblete Tamargo LLP (“PT Law”) filed a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) lawsuit against the Department of State in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for records requested more than fives years ago related to U.S.-Cuba property claims. The Complaint is embedded at the end of this post. The suit stems from two FOIA records requests for records, one filed in 2014, and the other in 2015, that were submitted to the Department of State before the U.S. and Cuba normalized diplomatic relations.
The firm was particularly interested in records on the enforcement, or lack thereof, of several provisions of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (“the Helms-Burton”) and other laws related to the settlement of the outstanding American property claims pending against the government of Cuba. As of this writing, American taxpayers owed billions by Cuba no closer to settling the claims. The relationship with Cuba has also deteriorated for a variety of reasons especially over the attacks on U.S. diplomats that started in late 2016 and that have yet to be satisfactorily resolved, among other issues. At the end of this post is a copy of the complaint and a sampling of some of the documents released to date.
PT Law Attorneys and Public Policy professionals have worked on U.S.-Cuba policy for decades including during the drafting of the Helms-Burton law in Congress. The firm currently represents nearly two dozen families who hold certified claims against Cuba. In advocacy efforts during the past few years, the Firm has stressed the importance of resolving these claims correctly, consistent with the law.
The resolution of U.S.-Cuba property claims will set important precedents that will impact future property claims programs well beyond Cuba. During the past ten years, PT Law attorneys have testified before Congress, briefed policymakers in both political branches of government, foreign governments, businesses, and other interested parties on the importance of successfully resolving this long-standing dispute not only for our clients but to better inform the general public and fellow attorneys about these programs.
The records produced by the Department of State will not only help advance justice and accountability for American citizens wronged by Communist Cuba and those today who traffic in confiscated property, but it will also help U.S. taxpayers understand how this program has worked, or not worked, and how it can be improved so that future claims programs can be properly structured to advance U.S. national and taxpayer interests.
If you are a claims practitioner, we hope these records bring much-needed sunshine on the U.S.-Cuba claims program, an intersection of law and public policy that continues to unfold in courts of law and in the court of public opinion. You can search for records produced by the Department of State by following this link.
** Note PobleteTamargo has redacted additional information from any posted productions to protect the email addresses and direct phone numbers of government officials.