efe-epaMiami

Carnival Corporation was sued on Thursday in federal court in Miami over its use of port facilities in Cuba that were expropriated without compensation after the 1959 revolution.

The Miami-based cruise line was hit with a pair of lawsuits after the president of the United States, Donald Trump, allowed waivers to Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act to expire earlier this year as part of efforts to bring about political change on the Communist-ruled island.

Title III, which allows Cuban-Americans and other US citizens and corporations to sue entities that have been "trafficking" in property that was seized by the Castro government on or after Jan. 1, 1959, had never gone into effect due to rolling six-month waivers.

The first lawsuits were filed by Javier Garcia Bengoechea, who says he is the rightful owner of the port of Santiago de Cuba; and Mickael Behn, who inherited a claim issued for a company - Havana Docks Corporation - whose facilities in the port of Havana were confiscated.

Accompanied by their attorneys, the two men laid out the reasons for their lawsuits in a press conference outside the federal courthouse in Miami but did not say how much they were seeking in compensation from Carnival.

A Carnival spokesperson contacted by EFE said only that the company is maintaining its current schedule of cruises to Cuba.

Fighting back tears, Behn said the port facilities in Havana had been "stolen" from his grandfather but that he can now sue thanks to the LIBERTAD Act," as the Helms-Burton Act, a law that strengthened the decades-old US embargo on Cuba, is also known.

John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said US authorities have "certified" 5,913 claims filed by American citizens and companies under Title III for seized properties and losses with a total value of $1.9 billion.

Factoring in interest that has accrued over more than 60 years, those claims are now valued at $8.5 billion.

But many other potential plaintiffs may sue even though their claims have not been certified by the federal government.

Garcia Bengoechea's attorney, Nicolas Gutierrez, told EFE this week that his client and Behn both have complied with a type of conciliation mechanism established by the US Justice Department in these cases.

He said that process is not mandatory but "recommended" and involves notifying potential defendants in writing that they have 30 days to reach an out-of-court settlement.

"We're all willing to compromise if they offer us compensation," said Gutierrez, a lawyer for several people looking to file Title III lawsuits and also a potential plaintiff himself.

Title III allows lawsuits to be filed for confiscated property valued at $50,000 or more.

Because foreign companies - mainly European - also are potential targets of lawsuits, the Trump administration's decision to let Title III take effect was staunchly opposed by the European Union, which warned it could bring a legal challenge against the US before the World Trade Organization.

ims/mc