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    Cuba reparations talks should look to future, not past

    Cuba reparations talks should look to future, not past
    The Times Editorial Board

    Just over a year ago, President Obama began thawing the half-century
    Cold War chill between the U.S. and Cuba when he and President Raul
    Castro agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations. More recently,
    Florida-based Stonegate Bank announced it would start issuing debit
    cards that American travelers can use in the island nation, a first for
    an American firm. Last week the administration permitted U.S. airlines
    to resume flights to Cuba, which will make it easier for approved
    travelers who have been relying on a complicated charter system to get
    to the island. While rapprochement with Cuba is long overdue, it will
    take a significant amount of time and delicate negotiations before full
    reconciliation can be achieved.

    One of the thorniest elements [facing U.S. and Cuban negotiators] is
    ensuring that Cuba makes good on the assets it seized from Americans and
    U.S.-based companies 55 years ago.

    One of the thorniest elements is ensuring that Cuba makes good on the
    assets it seized from Americans and U.S.-based companies 55 years ago.
    When Fidel Castro’s guerrillas swept dictator Fulgencio Batista from
    power in 1959, the new regime quickly converted the island’s governance
    to a communist system and nationalized billions of dollars in private
    property, from small homes and farms to foreign-owned utilities, hotels,
    sugar cane estates and other corporate assets. Castro settled property
    claims with England, Spain, Mexico and others, but negotiations with the
    U.S. ended in 1960 when President John F. Kennedy barred Americans from
    buying from or selling to Cuba. The embargo came in response to Castro’s
    seizure of refineries owned by U.S. companies that refused, under
    Kennedy’s order, to process Soviet oil. More than 5,900 claims with an
    initial value of $1.9 billion have been certified by the Justice
    Department’s Foreign Settlement Claims Commission, and estimates put
    their current value, with interest, at more than $7 billion. Notably,
    those claims do not include losses by Cubans who later fled to the U.S.

    Cuba, meanwhile, argues that the U.S. is on the hook for some, if not
    all, of the $117 billion in damages it claims were caused by the
    embargo. While the Cuban responsibility to compensate for nationalized
    property is clear, it’s specious for Cuba to argue that the U.S. owes
    damages because it refused to engage in trade. Murkier is the validity
    of a Cuban court ruling 15 years ago that found the U.S. was also
    responsible for damages caused by the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other
    CIA-backed incursions. How enforceable that might be is a question that
    ought to be wrapped into the negotiations.

    It’s a thorny situation, especially since the U.S.-based claims would
    consume a significant chunk of Cuba’s $77-billion gross domestic
    product. One compromise worth exploring would be to compensate smaller
    claimants for at least some of their losses with cash, while paying off
    larger creditors by giving them access to Cuban markets and resources —
    a deal that also would help Cuba by pumping some energy into a generally
    low-performing economy.

    The biggest obstacle to moving forward, though, is Congress. Although
    the Cuban embargo began with executive orders, Congress later added its
    own stamp, most significantly with the Cuban Liberty and Democratic
    Solidarity Act of 1996, which effectively bars the president from
    lifting the embargo unilaterally. Better known as the Helms-Burton Act,
    it precludes U.S. assistance until there are democratic reforms that
    don’t involve the Castro brothers, and it authorizes sanctions against
    corporations and countries that do business with Cuba. It also calls for
    the very reparations that are under discussion now.

    Unfortunately, the president and influential lawmakers are at odds over
    the sagacity of normalizing relations with Cuba. But Obama is on the
    right track here. The embargo has not only exacerbated the hardships
    faced by people living under the Castros’ totalitarian regime, it has
    harmed Americans and American companies without weakening the Castros’
    grip on power. With Fidel retired and Raul promising to step down in
    2018, now is an optimal time for the U.S. to begin exerting positive
    influence on one of its nearest neighbors.

    The administration should ensure through these crucial negotiations that
    Americans who lost property to the Cuban revolution receive some measure
    of justice. Yet the United States’ most pressing interest here lies not
    in making amends for the past, but in forging a better future. Congress
    should join the Obama administration in this effort, and lift the embargo.

    Source: Cuba reparations talks should look to future, not past – LA
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