Carnival Cruises became the first corporation sued under Title III of the 1996 Libertad Act on Thursday for profiting from the use of stolen property in Cuba.
The plaintiffs, American owners of ports stolen during the 1959 Cuban Revolution, hope that their legal action will be the first step in warning corporations that doing business with the repressive communist regime – which funnels much of its profits into violently repressing dissidents and destabilizing its Latin American neighbors – has severe consequences.
Title III of the law, commonly known as Helms-Burton after its authors, allows Americans to sue any company that has trafficked in the use of property stolen from them since 1996. Fidel Castro launched a nationwide larceny campaign after 1959 in an alleged effort to “nationalize” and “redistribute” property to the poor. Today, the Cuban regime and its cronies own all property and business in Cuba; businesses not directly owned by the Cuban military are owned by individuals or corporations friendly to the regime.
President Bill Clinton enacted a waiver blocking Americans from exercising their rights under the law, initially to give corporations time to withdraw from Cuba. Every president since has successively continued the waiver, however, giving corporations a 23-year period in which to withdraw from the island.
Carnival Cruises began operating in Cuba in 2016.
“For decades throughout the Cold War and beyond, visiting Cuba was impossible for nearly all Americans… more of a dream than a vacation,” Carnival’s official website states. “But today, this traveler’s jewel seems to sit a little bit closer — it’s just a Carnival cruise away!”
In May 2016, when the first Carnival cruise ship docked in Havana, Cuban police violently arrested Daniel Llorente for waving a U.S. flag to greet the ship. The man went on to become a dissident and famously interrupt the 2017 May Day parade waving an American flag.
Mickael Behn, the rightful owner of the Havana Docks Corporation, and Javier García-Benngochea, the rightful owner of the Port of Santiago de Cuba, sued Carnival for offering cruises to Cuba that dock in their property and paying the Cuban government, not the property owners, for their use.
“I don’t think it’s understated to say how important it is that, for the first time in 59 years, an American can stand in public and legitimately assert their rights to property stolen from them in Cuba against traffickers and the Cuban dictatorship,” García-Bengochea told Breitbart News in an interview Thursday, calling the Trump administration’s decision to allow the lawsuits the most significant event in a larger “realization by the world that Cuba is radioactive.”
“For decades, people have ignored the fact that, in Cuba, everything is stolen. So how does capitalism work, much less be transformative, in a country where there is no clear title of property?” he asked. “You can’t even have credit because you can’t establish collateral.”
“For our clients, it’s very significant,” Roberto Martínez, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida who is part of the team representing the plaintiffs, told Breitbart News. “This is property that was stolen from their families back in 1960, so it’s just one step in the process of trying to bring freedom and prosperity to the Cuban people, because they have been denied that for 60 years.”
“It’s wonderful to be in an American courtroom and let a jury decide,” Martínez added.
García-Bengochea, who has spent a decade advocating for the U.S. government to allow him to exercise his legal right to sue, attributed the change in U.S. policy to a perfect storm of events: his refusal to give up the right, the Trump administration pivoting away from President Barack Obama’s friendly policy towards Raúl Castro, and Cuba becoming the focal point for a growing number of tragic events in Latin America.
“It had a large part to do with people who were intellectually honest and could think critically about this,” he said, naming National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in particular. But also, he added, “it has become evident … that the crisis on our border, the problem in Venezuela – these are directly related to the dictatorship in Cuba.”
“If there were peace and prosperity in Latin America, we would not have an immigration crisis. The reason there is not peace and prosperity in Latin America is because the Cubans have been exporting their revolution for over 60 years and have fomented poverty, narcotrafficking, violence, and corruption.”
Experts believe the Cuban government almost exclusively controls the socialist regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. This week, Bolton told reporters the U.S. estimates that at least 20,000 Cuban government agents are currently active in Venezuela, running Maduro’s operations. A former Venezuelan military leader previously estimated that number to be closer to 100,000.
Venezuela is currently undergoing the worst humanitarian and political crisis in its history after two decades of socialist rule. Faced with an ongoing military insurrection, Maduro’s loyalists have resorted to killing child protesters this week.
Martínez tells Breitbart News he hopes the lawsuits will inspire observers to respect the gravity of what happened to his clients’ families.
“Let’s think about Europe during World War II, all the property that was looted by the Nazis,” he told Breitbart News. “Nobody thinks twice about saying, ‘of course that was wrong, they should be compensated.'”
“But because Cuba had, for many years, captured the imagination of some people, perhaps as a revolutionary movement that was different … I think it was able to fool a lot of people. But a lot of people are opening their eyes, especially seeing the travesty happening in Venezuela.”
García-Bengochea hopes that his lawsuit, and the hundreds of others expected under Helms-Burton, will further expose not only Cuba’s hand in these crimes, but those of international corporations that profit from a relationship with the Castro regime.
The Castro regime forced Carnival Cruises to violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act immediately upon accepting a business relationship with the corporation. To allow the ships to dock in Behn’s and García-Bengochea’s ports, Carnival had to agree to ban ethnic Cubans with U.S. citizenship from buying tickets. After a flurry of lawsuits, Carnival rescinded its policy.
The Castro regime does not recognize the U.S. citizenship of ethnic Cubans born in the United States.
“This trial is going to bring out what it takes to do business with a dictatorship, some of the unsavory things that occur,” he said. “It is not going to be pretty.”