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Marco Rubio co-sponsors legislation that would require Cuba to address legal claims with the U.S.

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Claiming that there are between $7-8 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by Fidel and Raul Castro in Cuba that are currently unsettled, Marco Rubio and Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter introduced legislation today that would require the Communist government to address such claims before re-establishing full diplomatic relations with the United States.

“Many families and entities in the U.S. and around the world deserve just compensation for the properties the Castro regime seized from them and has been making money off of to repress the Cuban people,” Rubio said in a statement. “At the very least, President Obama and any future president should force the Castro regime to pay back the people they stole from before travel and trade restrictions are eased.”

“It’s obvious that President Obama wants a quick fix, but we shouldn’t lift our embargo against Cuba without adequate assurances to protect future U.S. business,” added Vitter. “Ensuring that these legal claims are accounted for and are being settled is a must for the American families and businesses whose property was seized, and for ensuring any degree of future business with Cuba. We need a long-term plan to ensure that these families’ claims are returned once and for all.”

USA Today reported in January that the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC) counts 5,913 valid claims for American property confiscated in Cuba, totaling more than $8 billion if interest is counted. They include known U.S. brands such as Texaco, Starwood Hotels and Office Depot. The list doesn’t include the thousands of exiled Cuban-American claims — as well as those from Cubans on the island — that could surface if there’s a resettlement plan.

U.S. and Cuban diplomats have met three times over the past five months on reestablishing ties between the two nations since President Obama announced a diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba last December. Obama and Raul Castro met individually at a summit in Panama last met, where Obama said, “On Cuba, we are not in the business of regime change.”

The United States said last month it would remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, effective May 29. The designation imposed sanctions on some companies doing business with Cuba and discouraged banks from handling Cuba’s accounts in the United States.

Rubio blasted that announcement, as he has every one that the administration has issued on Cuba since last December. Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants who left the island before Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

But while Rubio and New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez have been the two biggest critics of the president’s overtures to the Castros, there’s plenty of similar sentiment among those running for president on the GOP side. Last night in Miami at a campaign fundraising event for his PAC Right to Rise, Jeb Bush criticized Obama for attempting to improve relations with Cuba and Iran.

Bitter and Rubio’s bill, the Cuban U.S. Claims Settlement Act,” would require the president to include a plan to address the outstanding FCSC Cuban Claims Program in any further negotiations with Cuba.  The senators say that under their legislation, unfinished claims must be addressed by the FCSC before the U.S. eases restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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