Cuban property disputes ahead

Dan Grech Aug 4, 2006

Cuban property disputes ahead

Dan Grech Aug 4, 2006


SCOTT JAGOW: We could be on the verge of history in Cuba. Cubans call it El Cambio, The Change. If Fidel Castro dies, the business climate in Cuba could certainly change dramatically, but there’s one big hurdle before that happens. From our Americas Desk at WLRN, Dan Grech reports.

DAN GRECH: David Shahoulian grew up in Miami, the eldest son of a Cuban immigrant. The first time he visited his extended family in Cuba, he was 29 and a filmmaker. He learned then the true extent of his family’s desperation.

DAVID SHAHOULIAN:“My cousin, she’s a first cousin who has two kids, at one point took me aside and she was quite nervous asking me about this, but she asked if we could get married, because she wanted to come over to the United States.”

Shahoulian decided to leave his cousin in Cuba. He also left filmmaking to become an attorney. He felt that would put him in a better position to help sort out the legal mess that will inevitably follow in the wake of Castro’s regime.

He says the first problem will be figuring out who really owns what.

SHAHOULIAN: “You have all these properties throughout Cuba that in a sense have two owners. Their original owners who have their deeds and are likely here in the United States. And then their new owners who got new deeds. You’re going to have two different innocent owners saying they are the rightful owners of these properties.”

When news hit Miami’s Little Havana Monday that Fidel Castro was gravely ill, cars jammed Calle Ocho in celebration.

But if Cuba were to reopen for business, this impromptu fiesta could quickly turn into gridlock.

Already the US government’s certified nearly 6,000 claims of confiscated property in Cuba.Including interest, they’re worth an estimated $6 billion.

Miami sociologist Dario Moreno says property disputes will jam up potential investment on the island.

DARIO MORENO:“No one wants to invest in a property that’s under dispute. That’s going to be a tango. And I think that’s why you’re not going to see investment in tobacco, sugar, the old sectors of the Cuban economy.”

And it will be hard to sort out competing legitimate claims from bogus ones. Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer.

ANDRES OPPENHEIMER:“Because there’s an old Cuban joke, that if you put together all the sugar mills that Cuban exiles own, Cuba’s territory is about China’s size.”

The Helms Burton Act, passed by Congress in 1996 to strengthen the embargo on the island, will likely delay an economic opening even more. It requires any democratic successor to the Castro government to settle billions of dollars in seized property claims before the US can lift the embargo.

Meanwhile, the Communist government has its own grievances. Cuba says the US owes it $70 billion. That’s the total economic impact of America’s 44-year embargo on the island.

In Miami, I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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