On May 2, Havana Docks Corp. sued Carnival Cruise Lines for “trafficking” in confiscated property. But Carnival says it was doing nothing illegal in Cuba and the lawsuit should be dismissed.
Havana Docks, located at 215 Southland Drive in Lexington, Kentucky, contends it is the rightful owner of waterfront property at the Havana Cruise Port Terminal and had used the property from 1917 until Cuban authorities seized it on Oct. 24, 1960.
The company’s lawsuit states:
The communist Cuban Government maintains possession of the Subject Property and has not paid any compensation to Plaintiff for its seizure.
More specifically, the communist Cuban Government nationalized, expropriated, and seized ownership and control of the Subject Property. The Subject Property has not been returned and adequate and effective compensation has not been provided.
Carnival Cruise Lines, at 3655 N.W. 87th Avenue in Doral, Florida, began “profiting” from the property around May 1, 2016, the lawsuit contends.
In a May 30 response, Carnival Cruise Lines denied trafficking in the property, saying that the U.S. Treasury Department had authorized the company’s activities in Cuba in 2016.
Havana Docks is suing under Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as the Helms-Burton act. Carnival Cruise Lines says the law does not apply, stating:
First, by its own terms, trafficking under Helms-Burton does not include uses of property “incident to lawful travel to Cuba.” But that is exactly how Carnival uses the docks in Havana, they are a means for Carnival’s guests to lawfully travel to Cuba. Second, the property Plaintiff claims was expropriated —
a concession to run three piers in Havana, and the piers themselves — is not the property Plaintiff claims Carnival is trafficking in because Plaintiff’s concession expired in 2004, and at that point the piers reverted back to the Cuban government.
Carnival has no doubt that millions of Cuban-Americans have suffered severe harm at the hands of their former Government. But Helms-Burton was designed with the narrow intent to deter companies and individuals from investing in or exploiting confiscated property. The findings in the text of the Act make clear its focus by reciting that “[t]he Cuban Government is offering foreign investors the opportunity to purchase an equity interest in, manage, or enter into joint ventures using property and assets some of which were confiscated from United States nationals.” See 22 U.S.C. § 6081(5). The Act does not by its terms reach companies, such as Carnival, who are engaged in lawful travel. Because Plaintiff’s claims against Carnival fail as a matter of law, the Complaint should be dismissed with prejudice.
Carnival Cruise Lines also contends that Havana Docks didn’t own the disputed properties. It had a concession to operate three piers and that concession expired in 2004, according to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, which certified Havana Docks’ loss in 1971.
Lawyers for the cruise lines say the commission’s certification “makes abundantly clear that Plaintiff’s property interest in the Havana port was a temporary one that expired twelve years before Carnival began utilizing the port for cruises.”
In other words, at the time of the alleged “trafficking” in 2016, the property belonged to the Cuban government as a result of the concession’s expiration. Thus, even without wrongful confiscation by the Cuban government, the property would not have belonged to Plaintiff at the time Carnival used the property incident to lawful travel to Cuba.
The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission is a U.S. Justice Department agency. On April 21, 1971, the ostensibly independent commission certified that Havana Docks had suffered a loss of $7,669,420.88.
Havana Docks disputed the ruling, saying losses were higher. On Sept. 28, 1971, the commission raised the amount to $9,179,700.88, which included interest of 6 percent per year.
Havana Docks’ lawsuit now demands whatever of the following is greater:
- Damages that the commission certified – or $9,179,700.88 – plus interest.
- Damages as determined by a special master.
- Fair market value, plus interest.
In addition, the lawsuit asks for triple the amount of the awarded damages, as U.S. law allows, plus court costs and attorneys’ fees.
Lawyers for Havana Docks include Roberto Martinez, a former U.S. attorney. His biography states:
As a litigation lawyer, Bob has successfully served as co-lead trial counsel in several anti-terrorism cases, obtaining and collecting judgments against the Government of Cuba. One case involved a $188 million dollar wrongful death judgment arising out of the murder of four men who were shot down by the Cuban Air Force while flying a humanitarian mission for Brothers to the Rescue. Congress passed two landmark laws allowing for the use of frozen Cuban Government assets located in the U.S. to satisfy the judgment, and the victims collected approximately $100 million.
He also represented the family of a former Air National Guard member who was shot down during the Bay of Pigs invasion. A judge awarded a $22 million judgment, which the family was able to collect from frozen Cuban assets. In addition, he is currently pursuing, in several jurisdictions, the collection of a $100 million judgment arising from the torture and murder of a U.S. citizen and has obtained, to date, multimillion-dollar recoveries.