Heirs of the family that once owned the Hotel San Carlos in Cienfuegos are suing Cuban tourism companies for their “unlawful trafficking” of the property.
Antonio Mata y Alvarez built the hotel in June 1925. The lawsuit states:
He and his son ran it and built up its good will and fame until Fidel Castro seized power and established a communist government in Cuba, which confiscated the San Carlos from the Mata family. The communist Cuban government – and more recently, the Meliá hotel chain – has re-used and benefitted from the San Carlos for decades without paying the Mata family any compensation whatever.
On May 20, heirs Marisela Mata and Bibiana Hernandez filed a class-action lawsuit against Grupo Hotelero Gran Caribe, Corporación de Comercio y Turismo Internacional Cubanacán, Grupo de Turismo Gaviota and Corporación Cimex.
The lawsuit also cites 10 unknown individuals which it describes as Raúl Doe 1 through 5, and Mariela Doe 1 through 5. These individuals are “members of the Cuban government” who benefit from the confiscated property.
None of the defendants had responded to the lawsuit as of today.
Antonio Mata y Alvarez operated the San Carlos Hotel for nearly 32 years, “building its reputation so that it was regarded as the leading hotel” in Cienfuegos’ historic center.
He died on Jan. 4, 1959, and his son, Antonio Alberto Lazaro Mata became owner of the hotel.
Cuban authorities confiscated the property on Dec. 4, 1962. The lawsuit states:
Around 1984, the communist Cuban government abandoned and closed the San Carlos, which fell into disrepair.
In 2005, defendant Cimex began renovating the San Carlos. That work continued for more than a decade. The San Carlos was re-opened on January 14, 2018, as the Meliá San Carlos.
Antonio Alberto Lazaro Mata died on August 25, 1919, in Cienfuegos, Cuba, and was survived by his wife and two children, Antonio Barbaro Mata and Marisela Mata. On his death, ownership of the San Carlos passed by operation of Cuban law to Antonio Barbaro Mata and Marisela Mata, in equal parts.
Antonio Barbaro Mata and Ms. Hernandez were married in Miami in 1985.
Barbaro Mata died on Aug. 16, 2000, and his half ownership of the hotel went to Hernandez. Family members didn’t file with the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission because they weren’t U.S. citizens at the time the property was seized.
Hernandez and Bibiana Mata are now American citizens and live in Miami.
They filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The lawsuit states:
Defendants and the Meliá accomplices market not just the San Carlos’ physical structure, but also its legacy and goodwill, and its storied history – all the result of the Mata family’s efforts over decades to attract guests.
Their lawyers say they are suing on behalf of hundreds of other people who have not been compensated for Meliá’s use of nearly three dozen properties in at least 10 locations in Cuba.
They say the amount of damages they are seeking has not yet been determined.
The case was assigned to Judge Joan A. Lenard, who presided over the case of the Cuban Five.