HAVANA TIMES — The United States’ Foreign Claim Settlement Commission (FCSC) is demanding that Cuba pay US $8 billion for the properties nationalized on the island in the 1960s and the interest accumulated since ($1.8 million for the properties and the rest for interest).
It is one of the issues the two governments will have to discuss on the road to normalizing relations, and it won’t be easy to come to an agreement, for Cuba also has a long list of demands in connection with the costs of more than 50 years of embargo.
Cuban authorities claim the financial embargo has caused the island “damages over US $116 billion” (1), the United States has also just declassified a document about the “economic reprisals and acts of sabotage” carried out by the CIA against the country (2).
Quantifying the damage of the blockade and the violent actions organized or supported by the United States and comparing these to US losses stemming from nationalizations would be an endless debate, so it’s likely the two nations will opt to call a draw.
It may be in anticipation of this that the FCSC has certified only those cases brought forth by US private citizens or companies, neglecting the demands made by Cuban Americans. This leaves their claims without any international support with which to negotiate with their country of origin.
This ruins all hope that Washington will support those Cuban Americans who lost their properties before they acquired US citizenship, something which could have become a hurdle on the way of normalizing relations.
Around 80% of US claims come from companies with which Cuba could trade its debt for investment advantages, something which US pragmatism is likely to accept, particularly when the offer is made by a counterpart that cannot and does not feel obliged to pay up.
What’s more, few are probably interested in getting back decapitalized companies, some of them in ruins and by now technologically backward. Telephone companies, for instance, appear more interested in doing business than making claims.
The issue of properties seized from Cubans who abandoned the country, however, is more complex and could bring about a social conflict between émigrés and residents of the island, of a magnitude and gravity that has no precedents.
Following the revolution, the rich left behind relatives and servants to look after their homes and headed to Miami Beach to wait for the US to “solve the problem.” The Urban Reform Law, however, got ahead in the race and turned the “keepers” into owners.
These brought their families from the interior and turned the wealthy mansion into a tenement, or they traded it for several smaller houses, owned by individuals or the State, which was interested in turning some of them into government institutions, embassies or tourist centers.
For decades, Cubans who left the country would lose their properties, including their home. This came to an end with the new migratory law advanced by Raul Castro in 2013. Now, it suffices to come back to the island once every two years for the State to recognize a person’s property rights.
Fifty years of seizures, State sales and the swapping (permuta) of homes have created a tangled web that’s impossible to untangle. Many Cubans today live in houses or apartments that were nationalized, but for which they paid the State, or acquired by trading their own homes.
Something similar is true of the lands confiscated and handed over to private farmers or cooperatives, or passed on to farmers under free usufruct agreements. What farmer would quietly accept having their land taken from them, or being forced to pay rent for them? Who would be content with that?
The Cuban State has no money to pay the former owners or their descendants, so it would only have the option of starting a new and massive campaign of confiscations that would leave many families out on the street or a dirt road.
The position of the FCSC, in addition to legal, is logical, if one is interested in preventing large-scale social conflict, for, if the nationalizations of the past affected a minority, today it would mean harming the great majority of citizens.
There’s much talk today of reconciliation among Cubans within and without, but, to achieve this, the nation’s interests will have to be prioritized over and above those of individuals. People will have to understand that it’s impossible to move forward while looking back.
(*) See the website of Fernando Ravsberg.