If you choose to profit off property stolen from others, you are no less guilty than those who stole the property. No matter how you try to spin it, there is no way to justify trafficking in stolen property.
Benefactors of Cuban Loot Must Pay Up
When Fidel Castro confiscated private properties in the 1960s, both the owners and the Cuban people suffered. The winners—the young dictator and his close comrades—profited from their ill-gotten gains by partnering with unscrupulous crony capitalists.
The present-day cronies, by and large from outside Cuba, are staring down the barrel of lawsuits that seek damages for theft. From May, the Trump administration has, as explained by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, given the victims of confiscation in Cuba the opportunity to right the wrongs of decades ago. The cases fall under the 1996 Helms-Burton “Libertad” Act.
Nearly 60 years have passed since the confiscations began, but the damages are easily identifiable for tens of thousands of Cuban exiles and their descendants. The Castro regime also carried out the mass theft in a brazenly public manner, so there is no dispute over its occurrence and the amount of property affected.
The questions at hand, therefore, are whom to prosecute and whether this is a worthwhile endeavor on the part of U.S. courts.
The Cuban exiles of the late 1950s to 1970s had to start life over in the United States and elsewhere. They regrouped mostly in Florida and achieved notable success as business people, workers, and artists. From popular culture, for example, we know of singer Gloria Estefan and actor Andy García. The latter received the Alexis de Tocqueville Award from the Independent Institute for his dedication to “the principles of individual liberty as the foundation of free, prosperous, and humane societies.”
Between 1960 and 1962, Operation Peter Pan brought 14,000 unaccompanied minors to the United States, often to never return or see family again. Many became influential, including Carlos Eire, a historian of religion at Yale University.
My own mentor, José Azel, was among them and left as a 13 year old in 1962. The author of Mañana in Cuba (2010) and Reflections on Freedom (2017), Azel knows his own family home was taken and divvied out to other families by the regime. The loss of his homeland still saddens him, but he says he has turned the page regarding the hope of ever having that specific property returned. Also, given the crushing poverty on the island, “in good conscious, [he] would not feel good about displacing these families.”
The case of foreigners enjoying profits on account of the theft, though, leaves little room for sympathy. Mickael Behn and Javier Garcia-Bengochea have federally certified claims to confiscated properties in Cuba, including buildings and piers at the Havana port. The use of these assets by U.S. companies rubs salt into the wound, and the pair are taking up the opportunity to bring multi-million-dollar lawsuits against Carnival Cruise Lines.
“They just hoped my family would die and fade away,” Behn said at a press conference in Miami. His $45 million case is one of 5,911 approved claims, of which 817 were worth more than $50,000 prior to 1972. Including people who later became citizens and others who did not file in time, the State Department believes there could be as many as 200,000 legitimate claims worth $8 billion.
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