Cuba: Properties and the Future of the Nation

Fernando Ravsberg*

Phone companies appear more interested in doing business in Cuba than in reclaiming their properties.

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.

It will be difficult for Cuban farmers to accept having the lands given them by their grandparents taken away from them.

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.

Returning seized properties to émigrés would affect the majority of Cubans living on the island.

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.

7 thoughts on “Cuba: Properties and the Future of the Nation

  • June 26, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    The US position on the matter of compensation was effectively decided back in the administration of George W. Bush with the Second Report on the Commission on Assistance to a Free Cuba, CAFC II issued in 2006.

    Compensation of US owned properties will be decided in government to government negotiations in accordance with standard international practice. This negotiations often result in relatively small payments and it is likely that will follow in Cuba. It is unlikely however that it will be part of a quid pro quo against Cuban demands, as that would set a precedent for other cases.

    As to the properties of Cuban-Americans who were not American owned at the time of confiscation, international law gives the US no standing. The Report of CAFC II left that issue to the “Cuban People”, but suggested that some compensation be given to help in national reconciliation. (FYI: I drafted that part of the report. ) Our reasoning was not only legal, but intended to make to make the transition to a functioning democracy as easy as possible for all the reasons given by the author. It was also influenced by the experience of Nicaragua where the USG pushed the Nicaraguan government to compensate everyone. That policy left property rights confused for two decades and inhibited economic recovery. Sometimes, it is not possible to right every wrong – no matter how grievous.

  • June 26, 2015 at 10:40 am

    I agree . Moreover, a previous instance of a former foe being treated harshly (by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles) had unanticipated and catastrophic consequences! Likewise, compensation for those who left in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s is unrealistic. What next? Compensate the aristos for the lands seized in the French Revolution? Afro-American heirs for the enslavement of their ancestors during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries?

  • June 26, 2015 at 6:40 am

    That which was stolen should be returned. A new start demands justice as its foundation if it is to succeed.

  • June 25, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Only about half the private property that Cuba took was owned by Americans. U.S. cannot deal for other national interests!

  • June 25, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    U.S. cannot deal with Cuba for other national citizens!!!

  • June 25, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    The State appropriated these lands and properties in the interest of the country, its people, and the Revolution. These properties should be used as compensation for the many years of exploitation suffered by the poor, downtrodden Cubans who toiled tirelessly and pitifully for the oligarchs, who reveled in luxury and amassed great wealth. Is there no compensation for those who toiled under slave like conditions in order to make these people rich? Is there no moral justice in today’s world? We are hearing about REPARATIONS– Compensation for those who slaved to make the Metropolis filthy rich? This is the time for those whose parents slaved and toiled, lived in squalor, treated as animals, raped and plundered, to be compensated for their sufferings!!

  • June 25, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    The Cuban diaspora has done pretty well. While those that stayed suffered the consequences of a failed economic model. A Forum to deal with claims should exist with a practical understanding that Cuba is a poor country, it is a long time past 1959 and the Castro’s are not going any where in the near term. Punishing the Cuban people to deny Castro is as flawed an under taking as waiting go get back 1958 property.

    The revolutionary Cuba of the 1970’s and 1980’s also does not exist. Mover forward, engage on US terms and let Cuba find it’s way on it’s own. We will get farther treating Cuba with respect than blunt embargo.

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