Carnival Cruises Faces More Lawsuits over Cuba Trips

By Taylor Dolven (Miami Herald-dpa)

Father and son observing a cruiser anchored at the Port of Havana. File Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – A lawsuit seeking to punish Carnival Corporation for doing business in Cuba using assets that were expropriated by the Fidel Castro government will move forward, a federal judge in Miami has ruled.

Javier Garcia-Bengochea, the descendant of a Cuban business owner, is suing the Miami-based cruise corporation under a newly activated provision of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act – or LIBERTAD Act – that allows US nationals and naturalized Cubans to seek damages for property seized by Cuba’s government after the communist revolution in 1959.

Garcia-Bengochea has a certified claim to port buildings and piers in Santiago de Cuba where Carnival Corporation’s cruise ships have docked since Barack Obama eased relations with the Castro government in 2016.

Carnival Corporation asked US District Judge James Lawrence King to dismiss the case, arguing the company had sufficient permission from the US Treasury Department to do business in Cuba. In his ruling Monday, King said he was “not persuaded.”

Carnival Corporation said it will continue to fight the case.

“We believe that we operated within the approved government process regarding Cuba,” said Roger Frizzell, a spokesperson for Carnival Corporation. “We look forward to proving the merits of our case.”

The company faces a similar lawsuit brought by Havana Docks Corporation, a US company that says it is the rightful owner of port property in Havana. Carnival Corporation’s motion to dismiss that case is still pending.

Both lawsuits were filed in May shortly after the Trump administration announced that it would fully enforce the Helms-Burton Act, opening the floodgates for lawsuits against dozens of US companies operating in Cuba.

The move was part of a broader attempt to dissuade Cuba from backing Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. In June, the Trump administration banned cruise ships from sailing from US ports to Cuba.

“We’re pleased to have the opportunity to be the first to announce lawsuits under the Helms-Burton act against Carnival,” Garcia-Bengochea told the Miami Herald in May. “They were the first cruise line to traffic in our stolen properties so they deserve the ignominious distinction of being the first to be sued under the act.”

Following King’s ruling, Garcia-Bengochea filed lawsuits on Tuesday against Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited, Royal Caribbean International and Havana Docks Corporation filed lawsuits against Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited, Royal Caribbean International, and MSC Cruises.

Claims by both Garcia-Bengochea and Havana Docks were certified by the US Department of Justice’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission in the early 1970s. Nearly 60 US companies are doing business in Cuba under authorizations issued by the US Treasury.

27 thoughts on “Carnival Cruises Faces More Lawsuits over Cuba Trips

  • Interesting discussion gentlemen. I have to agree with Nick’s description of the Electoral College system being an anomaly – for it has in recent times, twice denied the winner of the popular vote, election. That may not make it into the top 100 US problems, but if not, it ought to.
    Bob Michaels’ is in my opinion correct about the US embargo having little effect upon limiting importation, but clearly the successive US administrations have failed to recognize that although doing little if anything to inhibit importations, it has provided the Castro regime with a most useful “whipping boy” used continuously by the regime as the causal factor for its incompetence.
    I agree with both of you regarding the evident mental instability of Donald J. Trump. It is unfortunate that professional standards of conduct prevent psychiatrists from publicly providing analysis. But maybe the UK is similarly suffering. (I obviously exclude Ireland Nick, but include Northern Ireland)

  • Cueto as in the song huh ?
    You make some good points Bob. And no, I was not previously aware that your Cuban wife is strongly Revolucionaria…..
    I know a lot of Cubans who are like minded.
    I don’t recall meeting Cubans who are anti the people of the USA but I would say that the vast majority are against U.S. policy (and loath leaders such as GWB and this trump guy). Cubans are generally pretty smart. And as you say they will usually differentiate.
    Just checked out some of your excellent Cuban photos. You have a keen eye.

  • Nick: I imagine Circles will let this topic fall off the radar screen as it is down to you and me talking about a diversion to the original topic. My e-mail is quite public [email protected]

    While the US Electoral College is antiquated, it does remain functional as everyone knows in advance that is the metric that determines the winner. If one prioritizes the US top 100 problems, it doesn’t make the list. Trump managed to win because his staff (he’s not that smart) directed him to go campaign in some key states that Clinton erroneously assumed were not critical. We must always recognize that while Trump’s base is small, it remains motivated to go vote. Similar to the old Miami hard liners.

    There sure is a contingent of US citizens who conclude that Trump is too mentally unstable to govern. I am one of them. However, we must be realistic and realize the congressional votes are just not there to do anything. Similar to the argument for impeachment for various reasons. Sad, but true.

    It is distressing to see your own government adopt and retain such a ridiculous policy of believing inflicting pain will cause foreign citizens to like you since that fails the most basic logic test as well as having almost a 60 year history of failure. But we must also acknowledge that yours and my interest in Cuba puts us in a very small group. Again, back to the imaginary list to top 100 problems, Cuba is just not on it.

    There is no point to the embargo other than inertia and the US having no good reason to give it up. No reason for it, no reason to not. I agree that there is a reason for the Cuban government to see it remain in place as the excuse for their economic problems. You are probably not aware that I am married to a Cubana who is a strong believer in the Revolucíon and live part time in a patriotic small Cuba town (Cueto, Holguin). Fortunately everyone there makes a total distinction between US people (I am the only one in town) and the US government.

  • Bob Michaels,
    I do not inhabit a black and white world so you are unlikely to piss me off. I don’t quite understand why you say that trump persuaded more people to move from C to B given that he achieved significantly less votes than Hilary Clinton.
    If the U.S. presidential election was decided on who was the most popular of the 2 candidates (as in many other countries), then H. Clinton would definitely have won.
    The Electoral College system enabled the least popular of the two candidates to win. I don’t understand any counter argument to that fact.
    Personally speaking, I just find this to be a curious anomaly inherent within U.S. democracy.
    It certainly doesn’t piss me off although I am somewhat alarmed that this individual is allowed to continue as President when it is glaringly obvious that he is so mentally unstable.
    If the U.S. embargo does not inflict any hardship on Cuba, then what is the point of it? It has most definitely allowed the Cuban Government a scapegoat for the outcome of its poor economic performances.
    When you refer ‘if we can inflict enough pain on the Cuban People, they will begin to like us’ philosophy, what are you referring to ?
    I agree that broadly speaking, this is the USA’s philosophy regarding Cuba (with the exception of President Obama’s more rational interlude) but for me this includes the embargo.

  • Nick: Let me warn you up front that my views tend to piss off people, lose some internet friends and make some internet enemies. But they are based on years of research both in the US and Cuba. Some who live in a simple black and white world erroneously conclude that I am just anti-Cuba and defending the home team. But I am actively involved in improving US-Cuba relations and as an old business guy want to insure that what I am working for will actually result in the goals we desire. I communicate typically monthly with my two US senators, one being Marco Rubio, and my Representative in the US House.

    First, the electoral college. It is old and not what we would choose 200+ years later BUT everyone knows how the winner and loser will finally be determined. Trump did not get elected because of the electoral college. Realize US voters had 3 choices:
    A) vote for Hillary Clinton
    B) vote for Donald Trump
    C) don’t bother to vote
    Now C) was the most popular. Trump became President because he energized more US citizens to move from C) to B). Sad, but true.

    Cubans and the Florida vote: The passage of time has changed the demographics of Cuban-Americans. More now favor total total reconciliation with Cuba as the old hard liners die off. But, the old hard liners are politically involved, contribute, speak with their elected officials while the newer generation tends to stay on the sidelines as too many in the US do. So they tend to have more clout.

    Now the “US imperialism” is where I really piss people off. Today, not in the past but today, I can find very little that the US does to impact Cuba negatively. I search for things to encourage my elected representatives to stop doing but find little of significance. I am not on the “STOP THE EMBARGO” bandwagon as I can find nothing of significance that the embargo does to impact Cuba. For 3 years, I have been asking people both in Cuba, the US, and other countries to identify specific goods or services that Cuba does not have because of the US embargo. Everyone replies they cannot identify any specifics but are sure it does because “everyone knows it does” or “back in the past….”.

    The US can sell unlimited agricultural products and pharmaceuticals to Cuba so long as they pay for them. Cuba has a shortage of chicken and cooking oil. The US has a bonus of chicken. Yesterday in the grocery store here in the US, the deal was buy chicken for $1.69 a pound and get another same size package for free. The US has a huge excess of soy beans (base for cooking oil) due to Trump’s trade disaster with China. But Cuba needs to pay for those products which ends up being the reason for the shortages in Cuba.

    We live in an international economic environment. There is nothing that Cuba cannot buy from the US that does not have a replacement from some other country.

    The US can buy Cuban products from cuentapropistas as well as pharmaceuticals from the government. But Cuban private businesses have nothing to export. Maybe Cuban pharmaceuticals will generate some income once they pass the same government tests as US drugs.

    Yes, there are no longer 1,000 US tourists who get off cruise ships to buy souvenirs and pay guides for the day. But that economic impact is insignificant except to Cuban tour guides who hung around the cruise ship docks for the last few years.

    Now it does appear that foreign remittances, predominantly from the US, have become Cuba’s major source of foreign income with the demise of the Venezuelan petroleum production and their ability to pay for the “oil for doctors” program. Realize foreign remittances are more than twice the total impact of tourism.

    So when I write my various US Congressmen to identify specific things they should do to improve US-Cuba relations, I struggle for topics.

  • Bob Michaels,
    Again you make very interesting points.
    This ‘if we can inflict enough pain on the Cuban People, they will begin to like us’ philosophy is the cause of the same old cyclical problem.
    The only rationale is the FLA Electoral College Votes.
    My impression (as a Brit) is that the Electoral College Vote system was designed in the post revolutionary era after the USA had achieved freedom from British imperialism. This system is perhaps not achieving the best democratic outcomes in the modern USA ?
    Didn’t trump get a couple of million fewer votes than H.Clinton ?
    Perhaps Cuba’s best hope of achieving freedom from U.S. imperialism is electoral reform within the USA ?

  • Mr MacD,
    England and Wales voted to leave – a fool’s errand.
    Scotland and NORTHERN Ireland voted remain.
    Ireland (from whence I write) is in the EU regardless of any Little Englander upsurge……

  • Sadly Nick it was the interest in agriculture that was inherited, nothing else, so no need to doff your cap!
    Regarding the Boris/Donald relationship, at the moment Boris is happily assuming that the US will provide him with a market replacement for the EU in rapid time. Similarly he is assuming that the former UK dominions and colonies will for old times sake also make trading agreements and conveniently forget the way that they were dumped as trading partners in favour of the EU forty five years ago.
    Those are but assumptions and do not reflect reality. One reality for example is that the UK denies UK pensioners who live in the former dominions, the increments upon those pensions. but pays them to those who live in the EU or the US. The former dominions have each and jointly, endeavored to negotiate agreements similar to the EU and US, but the UK has repeatedly refused.
    That may appear to be a small matter – but in Canada alone, represents over 80,000 people – who have extended Canadian families. In any negotiations factors of that kind will play a role – and playing the old “dear old country” card won’t work, The UK is now a beggar, not a chooser, being an offshore island of Europe not a World power.
    My Scottish blood reminds me that it was the “little Englander” syndrome bearers that voted for Brexit, as both Scotland and Ireland voted firmly to “remain.”
    But the 14th Etonian Prime Minister will resolve it all – while I sit at home enjoying Cuba.

  • Mr MacD, It comes as no surprise to learn that you have some noble land-owning blood running in your veins…….
    Yes. I recall that Cory Brooker cropped up recently in these discussions. It will be interesting to see how that one pans out.
    Regarding Donald and Boris – perhaps they can don the gloves and settle any such dispute in a boxing ring. Mutual KO being the dream outcome.

  • Nick: these 5913 claims were litigated and adjudicated by the courts back in the 1960’s so the passage of time certainly is an issue. Those liens against the Cuban government remain until they are satisfied. But no reasonable person ever expects them to be paid in full as they total something like $4-5 Billion with interest now. Cuba simply does not have that kind of money. Settlements of 50 year old debts is typically a few cents on the original dollar. So realistically this is just not an economic issue. There is no potential pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for those US citizens holding these claims.

    However, this is a political issue. Read the Helms-Burton language. Resolution (not payment in full) of these specific obligations is listed as one of the requirements for termination of Helms-Burton. All of the other listed requirements have been met, mostly by passage of time. The only debatable one is Cuba holding free and fair elections. So resolution of these original claims is critical to ending Helms-Burton. Back during the times of the Obama outreach, I felt confident that the negotiations between Roberta Jacobson of the US and Josefina Vidal of Cuba would result of resolving these claims for a token amount as both were very effective, very high level diplomats. This certainly was a resolvable issue at that time. But the Cuban government (Raul) took the position that since Cuba had absolutely never done anything wrong, that Cuba would absolutely never make even a token concession to resolve this problem. So the political problem caused by these claims exists today.

    Now the new unresolved claims resulting from implementation of Title III are a separate issue. Personally, I see it as no more than a continuation of the “if we can inflict enough pain on the Cuba people, they will begin to like us” philosophy.

  • Well Nick, that may be similar to the descendants of slaves claiming reparation – as currently proposed by Cory Booker running for election as Democratic candidate for President of the US. If such occurs, the consequences will be far reaching – who owned the slaves and in which countries did they reside, do their descendants have any responsibility for their ancestors actions? The questions go on and on – with the only guarantee being lawyers fees.
    Speaking of Washington, will Donald J. Trump sue US born Boris Johnston for the cost of re-building the White House after the fire of 1812? I find your question about time very interesting.
    My estate and castle owning great-great grandfather disowned my great-grandmother for marrying the son of a tenant farmer. Could I possibly sue the current generation of occupants for my share?
    Bob Michaels has stimulated an interesting area of conjecture.

  • I really should sympathise with Carnival on this affair but following recent appalling treatment by their subsidiary Seabourn, which resulted in Carnival banning me (a diamond club member) ; when I read the reports on their current problems……..
    I CHEERED!!!

  • Bob Michaels, you make valid points.
    Is time (the passage of) not an issue here?
    If any such claims prove to be successful, perhaps the descendants of the Nacotchtank will consider taking legal action in Washington DC to reclaim Washington DC ?

  • Nick: almost none of the properties covered by these claims, the old ones as well as the new litigation, could be considered “abandoned”. We are talking about shares of stock in the Cuban telephone company, the electric company, much agricultural land that was taken in 1961 by ANAP when all farms over 165 acres were seized and redistributed. Do you think the Bacardi family simply “abandoned” their distillery in Santiago? Or, the owners of all the sugar mills just walked away? Same for families who owned large houses in major cities?

    It is notable that the original claims are limited to those who were US citizens at the time their properties were taken. I am talking about the ones that have been adjudicated in court, with specific amounts, back in the 1960’s. Cuban citizens, even those who later became US citizens , need not apply.

    Now my comment should not be interpreted as my support for Trump triggering Title III, just clarifying facts. And even Raul has agreed that Cuba owes something for those expropriated properties. He has just not agreed to pay contending the US owes Cuba more.

  • How can they claim legal rights? By going to the courts! As I said – “Oh to be a lawyer in the US!”

  • I don’t know G. Palmer whether you witnessed Obama’s speech of March 21st, 2016 at the Alicia Alonso Theatre, but I did. Obama in saying that he thought that the time had come to hold discussions between the US and Cuba, said that within those discussions there would have to be reciprocation by Cuba. There was nothing “reckless” in that!
    On March 28th, 2016, ‘Granma’ published a lengthy letter purported to have been written by Fidel Castro and it was read on all Cuban TV and radio stations at 8,00 p.m. that evening – taking just over thirteen minutes. In the “letter” which was headed “The Man Obama”, it having decried his speech, said that: “There will be no reciprocation”. The following day, in a statement made by Bruno Rodriguez Minister of External Affairs, it repeated that : “There will be no reciprocation.” In short his offer of an olive branch was rejected – but to his credit he tried to be constructive.
    Even the most dedicated US critic cannot deny that the US Embargo introduced by the US Cuban Democracy Act, has clearly failed in its purpose for fifty nine years, – which was to oust the Castros. Obama had enough common sense, to recognize that and sought a different route.
    The alternative route now being pursued by the Trump administration, is to tighten the economic screws even more. Anybody who has studied the Cuban issue will know that the effects of that will be to increase the level of misery for the people of Cuba back to 1989 conditions, but will not dethrone the Castro clique – who will continue to live in comfort and be sustained by China.
    The communist regime of the USSR eventually rotted from within – following a prolonged holding operation by the Western Allies for forty four years and seventy two years after the Russian revolution. Cuba will eventually follow suit. All that the US embargo has achieved is to provide the Castro regime with a scapegoat for their demonstrated incompetence in management especially economic.
    What constructive alternative have you to suggest?

  • To make a more accurate comparison Curt, study the reparations made to Jewish families following the Second World War. That didn’t only only include ownership of accommodation, but silver, pictures and other household effects.
    It is somewhat ridiculous to claim that if one flees out of fear, all property rights cease to exist. The Castro regime claimed all property, not just “mansions” – with a pittance spread over many years to the owners in Cuba. relatively small payments of compensation were agreed with some countries, but not with the US. It is only six years since Raul Castro determined that Cubans living in “state owned” property now owned that property. Prior to that there was a black market through which the occupant(s) moved out and the new “owner” moved in having “purchased” the property. Following Raul’s decision many of those buyers and sellers legitimized the transaction by registration with their local authority and paid the 3% commission. By making that decision Raul removed any possibility of claims for repair work by the regime to buildings that like most of the infrastructure in Cuba were crumbling or even falling down.

  • How can someone in the USA claim legal rights over something they abandoned in another country 60 years ago ??
    Those lawyers will be rubbing their hands together.
    But I don’t think they will be working on a ‘no win – no fee basis’…..

  • The only way out of this mess is the complete repeal of Helms-Burton.

    The cruise lines should use their lobbying power in Washington and urge their former passengers to contact Congress.

    Fortunately most of the Democratic candidates for President want to end the embargo.

    All of the Senators who are candidates have cosponsored the bill to end travel restrictions.

  • G. Palmer: legal travel to Cuba on flights direct from the US existed long before Obama became President. It appears you simply did not know they existed. It also appears you were/are not aware of the 5913 claims totaling $1,902,202,284.95 held by US citizens that were adjudicated by courts prior to 6 July 1962. This situation is quite a bit more complex than you envision.

  • Oh to be a lawyer in the US ! It really doesn’t matter who is suing whom – the percentage is the same.

  • The mansions weren’t seized until after they were abandoned by the owners, most who fled ton the US. Therefore the former owners deserve nothing. Was the Cuban Government just supposed to let them sit unoccupied indefinitely?

  • Fortunately the companies being sued can afford good lawyers, so hopefully those money hungry litigants will get NADA! Most of those who’re suing weren’t even born when those properties were allegedly siezed.

  • The USA never invaded Cuba. A group of Cubans in exile trained in USA soil invaded Cuba in 1961. Trust me, if the USA Army had would invaded Cuba today’s us Cubans would be in better situation. Freedom and economically.

  • Seems only natural for those who lost property from Cuba’s revolution to seek redress. Pro haps the Obama admin should have recognized those concerns and laws before moving forward with opening up legal travel to Cuba. Another example of Obama’s reckless foreign policies.

  • After the US invasion fiasco at Bay of Pigs, plus the US companies pulling out of Cuba after 1959 and US further attempts at undermining Cuban Authorities, US has lost any rights to confiscated properties as a result of War.

  • Just imagine how many expat Cubans could seek redress under this provision? Most of the mansions in Havana’s upscale neighborhoods were seized by Fidel. There is no lack of plaintiffs. The problem is more likely finding deep pockets like the Carnival Corporation who are worth suing!

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