The Cuban exile who remains the rightful owner of the José Martí International Airport in Havana filed a federal lawsuit against American Airlines on Wednesday, accusing it of using property stolen by the country’s communist regime.
The federal lawsuit, which also includes charges against Chilean company LATAM Airlines, was filed in Miami on Wednesday by Cuban exile José Ramón López Regueiro, whose father, José López Vilaboy, purchased the airport from its previous owner, Pan American Airways, in 1952 for $1.5 million.
According to the lawsuit filed by the Rivero Mestre law firm, Vilaboy invested heavily in the airport by modernizing its runway and constructing a new airport terminal, which he named José Martí. Following the 1959 Cuban communist revolution, the Castro regime stole the airport along with all other companies and private enterprises.
“For his efforts, Vilaboy, like so many other Cubans, was left with nothing when Fidel Castro took power and established a communist government, which stole his property and forced him and his family to flee Cuba,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit goes on to accuse the two airlines of using the airport facilities without receiving his authorization or providing any compensation, and thus had engaged in “unlawful trafficking of his confiscated property in Cuba” in violation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.
Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, Title III of the Helms-Burton Act allows U.S. citizens with claims to confiscated property in Cuba to file suit in U.S. courts against persons believed to be “trafficking” in that property.
All presidents since the law passed used an executive waiver to prevent it from going into action. President Donald Trump made history by allowing Title III to actively become law.
In a statement to the Miami Herald, American Airlines said it had received authorization from various government agencies to fly to the airport. “Title III specifically exempts lawful travel, which is what American provides,” the statement read. “We’ll review this lawsuit in detail and vigorously defend our service to Cuba.”
López Regueiro told the outlet that he remained entitled to compensation after a Florida court recently declared him his father’s legitimate and only heir: “It’s a matter of justice. They took everything from my father and didn’t compensate anyone.”
The Cuban regime claims that Regueiro’s father obtained the airport, as well as other valuable assets such as hotels and newspapers, after gaining illicit loans from the Batista regime.
“For the Cuban government, either you are with the government, or you are bad,” Regueiro contended. “For the [Castro] government, nobody owned property legitimately.”
American Airlines is just the latest in a long list of companies accused of property trafficking. So far, over a dozen lawsuits have been filed against Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Expedia, Booking.com, Meliá, and Credit Suisse. None of those cases have yet reached a verdict.