A petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the interpretation of the Helms-Burton Act might determine the fate of some claims by Cuban Americans who seek compensation for property confiscated in Cuba six decades ago after Fidel Castro rose to power, the Miami Herald has reported.
In practical terms the court will decide whether heirs of the original property owners also have the right to sue companies doing business with those properties in Cuba.
The petitioner is Robert Glen, whose family owned two beach properties in Cuba that are now the site of four hotels. He is suing American Airlines, because it offered to book the hotels through its website, and he received no compensation.
Glen and others like him have waited decades for the chance to get any compensation for properties seized by the Cuban government, even though Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act in 1996 to provide such people with a remedy in American courts to sue companies engaging in unlawful business activities with confiscated property.
But successive presidents suspended a key provision, Title III, that permits the cases to proceed in court until then-President Donald Trump lifted the suspension in 2019.
Since then, at least 42 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts against several companies, including 26 based in the U.S., according to the Miami Herald.
But complicating the matter is that many of the original owners have died, and heirs like Glen are pursuing the lawsuits. Helms-Burton, however, includes a clause forbidding cases involving those who “acquired” ownership of the claim connected to a confiscated property after March 12, 1996, when the law was enacted.
The key question for review by the Supreme Court is whether passive inheritance can be interpreted as an acquisition. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found Glen has standing to sue, but that the lawsuit lacks merit because he “acquired” ownership of the claim through inheritance after 1996.
Glen’s lawyers called that interpretation “overly literal” and “renders Title III toothless.”
The petition argued that “without intervention by this Court, all trafficking claims held by heirs whose family members died between 1996 and 2019 will be totally barred.”
The lawyers contend that the 5th Circuit opinion also “undermines Congress’ express foreign policy aim of deterring trafficking in confiscated property by granting a private right of action to naturalized victims of the Castro regime.”
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, explained that if the court decides to hear the case and then rules in favor of the plaintiff, then “the approximately 30-plus Libertad Act Title III lawsuits that have been prepared by legal counsel and ready to be filed will likely be filed.”