Former American Property in Cuba: A Forlorn Hope

by Daniel Nardini

As American negotiators work with their Cuban counterparts in trying to reestablish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, I seriously doubt that one of the issues being touched upon is the former American properties in Cuba. Before the Communist revolution in Cuba, Americans owned many properties in Cuba. These properties included land, summer homes, small businesses, and buildings. All of these properties were seized by the Cuban government under former President Fidel Castro, and no American has ever been compensated for the seizure of their properties (apart from the Cuban government issuing certificates for investments in the Cuban economy that were, overall, totally worthless). Those Americans and their families who might still be alive are hoping that some resolution might be made about the properties they lost so long ago.

I personally do not see it happening. If those Americans who lost property are ever compensated, it will not be worth the value they paid for whatever they had. I cite the example of China in this instance. When the United States and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations in 1979, the Chinese government paid 41 cents on the dollar for any and all American properties it had seized in 1949 from private American citizens. The deal was advantageous to the Chinese government in every way, and those Americans who had lost everything in China got very little to show for what they had lost. If any deal is ever made between the United States and Cuba, it will most likely follow this pattern. Those Americans who lost everything in Cuba will most likely get just a few pennies on the dollar. That is going on the premise that American negotiators will bother to think about these American former property owners at all (under U.S. President Barack Obama, I am not hopeful).

We must also bear in mind that the Cuban government pattern of seizing American property in the Americas had been copied by the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia. These self-styled socialist governments have taken away American properties based on what Cuba had done a long time ago. There is no question that the Cuban government encouraged these governments to follow its example set a long time ago. In my view, the Cuban government should be held responsible for what its allies in Venezuela and Bolivia had done. The Cuban government should work with the United States in forcing these governments to return those American properties they had seized, or fairly compensate those Americans who had former properties in Venezuela and Bolivia. I do not see this happening. One of the original reasons why the U.S. embargo had been placed on Cuba was the seizure of American property in Cuba. But even with the seizure of tens of millions of dollars of American properties, which should have added a LOT of money to the Cuban government’s coffers, the Communist Party ran the Cuban economy into the ground. Again I do not see a good settlement of this issue if there is any settlement at all.

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