HAVANA TIMES — Delegations from Cuba and the US met last week in Washington to make progress with negotiations on one of the more heated topics in the process of normalizing diplomatic relations: mutual compensation for confiscations and harm caused to citizens of both countries.
The meeting between Cuban State officials and representatives from the US State, Justice and Treasury Departments took place on July 28-29, marking the second meeting held on the controversial issue since the announcement of restored relations back on Dec. 17, 2014. The first meeting, which was more informative in nature, took place in Havana on December 8, 2015.
The US delegation was led by Brian Egan, the State Department’s legal adviser.
The meeting put financial compensation alternatives on the table for both countries. While the US claims entail property belonging to US citizens that were nationalized after the expropiations that took place when the Revolution triumphed in 1959, Cuba demands that the US compensate them for all the damages caused by the trade embargo, which is still one of the Gordian knots that stands in the way of fully normalized relations.
“Property claims continue to be one of our priorities in the negotiation process with Cuba,” the State Department’s spokesperson said. “We are strongly committed to defending all of those claims that have been registered, as well as the other complaints US citizens have made against Cuba and we hope to make progress with this process.”
The state official refused to go into detail about the specific topics to be discussed and he didn’t give any hints at the possibility of preliminary agreements being made before President Barack Obama’s presidency ends in January 2017.
However, analysts believe that very little progress has been made in this area and they question whether Obama’s negotiators really want to reach a settlement or not.
“We haven’t had any news 233 days after the first negotiation and we’ve only had two meetings after 18 months of dialogue, which makes it difficult for us to think that this is really a priority in Washington’s political agenda,” wrote John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which has its headquarters in New York.
The executive believes that this meeting should create a dialogue that quickly leads to a negotiation.
Time is running out for formalities
“We don’t have any more time to issue complaints and rerun our stances. This is the time for Power Point presentations, realistic prospects, compromise and acceptance so that lawyers can concentrate on drawing up agreements,” Kavulich added.
Anyway, it doesn’t look like an immediate agreement is around the corner anyhow.
The clearance accounts procedure begins with 5,913 claims made by US corporate firms and citizens who had their property or other goods confiscated, which were seized in accordance with the revolutionary government’s Decree Law 851 which came into effect on July 6, 1960. These expropiations are certified by the US Department of Justice’s Allocation of Foreign Complaints Commission and add up to around $1.8 biillion USD, according to estimates of that time.
Amongst the corporations affected were the Cuban Electricity Company, United Fruit Co., Starwood Hotels, Coca-Cola, International Telephone & Telegraph Co., and 36 sugar mills.
Today, these properties are estimated to be worth around 8 billion USD, the reason being the 6% interest charge that’s been applied every year after the confiscations took place.
Impact of the trade embargo
The Cuban government doesn’t stand far behind in its own compensation demands. For damages relating to the trade embargo, Cuba has mentioned the figure $121 billion USD, in accordance with a ruling made in a Cuban court in 2000, and human damages were fixed at about $181 billion USD.
In their last annual report about the impact of the trade embargo in front of the United Nations, Cuban representatives said that total damages accumulated over more than half a century of the trade embargo were more than $833.7 billion USD, according to the price of gold.
Properties taken from hundreds of Cuban families after 1960 do not form part of this negotiation, and do not figure on the Allocation of the Foreign Complaints Commission list.
“What is true and unchanging is the fact that the Obama administration only has 176 days to negotiate an agreement of certified claims that the Cuban government then accepts,” concluded Kavulich.
DECLARATION FROM THE STATE DEPARTMENT WHEN THE MEETING CAME TO A CLOSE
In their second meeting on the subject, both parties exchanged further details about their mutual demands and evaluated practices and processes in order to reach a settlement.
On July 28th 2016, the US and Cuba engaged in a dialogue, government to government, about mutual demands.
The US delegation was led by Brian Egan, the State Department’s legal adviser. The meeting allowed both countries to exchange further details about pending complaints and to make progress from the last meeting on the subject, held in Havana, Cuba. It also gave them the opportunity to exhange their points of view on historic practices and processes for settling this matter in the future.
Pending complaints from the US include those of US citizens who were certified by the Foreign Claim Settlement Commission; those related to sentences delivered by US courts against Cuba and US Government complaints.
The US continues to consider settling these complaints as one of its main priorities in normalizing the relationship between both countries.
NOTE FROM CUBA’S MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The second informative meeting between representatives from the Cuban and US government took place on July 28th 2016 in Washington where they discussed mutual compensation.
The Cuban delegation was headed by Abelardo Moreno Fernandez, the Foreign Affairs Vice-Minister, and the US delegation was led by Brian J. Egan, the State Department’s chief legal adviser.
At this meeting, which continued the discussions that took place in Havana in December 2015, both delegations continued to exchange information about each of their complaints, especially their records, characteristics and legal grounds, looking to prepare a negotiation process about this matter.
Representatives from both governments recognized the importance and usefulness of continuing to exchange information.