A Cuban-American man has filed a lawsuit claiming to be the rightful owner of Havana’s Jose Marti International airport, saying it was confiscated from his family during Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution that overthrew the government.
José Ramon López Regueiro, who now lives in Florida, filed the suit in Miami against American Airlines and the LATAM Airlines Group for “trafficking” in the property.
“What we seek to recover is the value of the airport times three,” said attorney Andrés Rivero, who is handling the case and estimates the current value of the airport as “approaching 1 billion.”
According to the court filing, American Airlines and Latam have “trafficked in or benefited from ongoing, unlawful trafficking in the Airport, by arriving and departing the Airport and using its facilities for cargo and passenger transport.”
Said López Regueiro: “I have had to wait 60 years, unfortunately. But at the end, there will be justice.”
The mechanics for the suit were put in place when the current Trump administration implemented Title III of the 1996 Helms Burton Act, allowing U.S. citizens to sue foreign firms and Cuban entities over their use of properties expropriated after Cuba’s 1959 revolution.
In a statement, American Airlines said: “American Airlines’ service to Cuba including José Martí International Airport in Havana is authorized by the U.S. government. In addition, (this law) specifically exempts lawful travel, which is what American provides.”
How this plays out remains to be seen. Experts say a U.S. judge could rule in favor of the man, and others say the courts could determine that American Airlines is actually facilitating tourism, which is against U.S. law since the trade embargo was enacted in the early 1960s. Neither option is good for the airlines.
“If more airlines are sued, some of the smaller ones may leave Cuba or change airports – presuming other airports are not subject to claims,” said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “There are 51 airlines serving Havana.”
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