Ruling Against Carnival on Cuba Cruises Leads to Rash of Lawsuits

August 28, 2019by Taylor Dolven
From left, attorneys Roberto Martinez, and Rodney S. Margol (back), joined Mickael Behn, who gets emotional as he speaks, and Dr. Javier Garcia-Bengochea, holders of certified claims for land in Cuba, and the plaintiffs from the first lawsuit under Title III Helms-Burton Acton, outside of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse Thursday, May 2, 2019. The Trump administration decided to end the suspension of a law that allows American citizens, including naturalized Cubans, to sue companies and subsidiaries in Cuba that benefited from private properties that were confiscated by the Cuban government. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS)

A lawsuit seeking to punish Carnival Corporation for doing business in Cuba using assets that were expropriated by the Fidel Castro government will move forward, a federal judge in Miami has ruled.

Javier Garcia-Bengochea, the descendant of a Cuban business owner, is suing the Miami-based cruise corporation under a newly activated provision of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act — or LIBERTAD Act — that allows U.S. nationals and naturalized Cubans to seek damages for property seized by Cuba’s government after the communist revolution in 1959. Garcia-Bengochea has a certified claim to port buildings and piers in Santiago de Cuba where Carnival Corp.’s cruise ships have docked since Barack Obama eased relations with the Castro government in 2016.

Carnival Corp. asked U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King to dismiss the case, arguing the company had sufficient permission from the U.S. Treasury Department to do business in Cuba. In his ruling Monday, King said he was “not persuaded.”

Carnival Corp. said it will continue to fight the case.

“We believe that we operated within the approved government process regarding Cuba,” said Roger Frizzell, a spokesperson for Carnival Corp. “We look forward to proving the merits of our case.” The company faces a similar lawsuit brought by Havana Docks Corporation, a U.S. company that says it is the rightful owner of port property in Havana. Carnival Corp.’s motion to dismiss that case is still pending.

Both lawsuits were filed in May shortly after the Trump administration announced that it would fully enforce the Helms-Burton Act, opening the floodgates for lawsuits against dozens of U.S. companies operating in Cuba. The move was part of a broader attempt to dissuade Cuba from backing Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. In June, the Trump administration banned cruise ships from sailing from U.S. ports to Cuba.

“We’re pleased to have the opportunity to be the first to announce lawsuits under the Helms-Burton act against Carnival,” Garcia-Bengochea told the Miami Herald in May. “They were the first cruise line to traffic in our stolen properties so they deserve the ignominious distinction of being the first to be sued under the act.”

Following King’s ruling, Garcia-Bengochea filed lawsuits on Tuesday against Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., Royal Caribbean International and Havana Docks Corporation filed lawsuits against Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., Royal Caribbean International, and MSC Cruises.

Claims by both Garcia-Bengochea and Havana Docks were certified by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission in the early 1970s. Nearly 60 U.S. companies are doing business in Cuba under authorizations issued by the U.S. Treasury.

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©2019 Miami Herald

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