MIAMI – A Cuban-American family has officially notified Spanish hotel chain Melia that it intends to sue the company in a United States court for using a hotel in Cuba that was expropriated nearly 60 years ago, their attorney told EFE on Tuesday.
Miami-based attorney Andres Rivero, who represents the heirs of Antonio Mata Alvarez, who owned the San Carlos Hotel in Cienfuegos, Cuba, when it was confiscated by the island’s government in the early 1960s, on Monday sued Cuban officials over the contract under which Melia manages the establishment and also notified Melia of his clients’ intention to sue.
The Mata family has this option available due to the recent decision by US President Donald Trump’s administration to activate Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, a 1996 law that tightened the long-standing US embargo on Cuba.
Trump allowed waivers to Title III of Helms-Burton to expire earlier this month as part of efforts to bring about political change on the Communist-ruled island.
Title III, which allows US citizens (mainly Cuban-Americans) 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 not gone into effect until May 2 due to rolling six-month waivers.
That provision of Helms-Burton had not been enforced because Trump’s predecessors wanted to avoid a diplomatic outcry from foreign countries whose companies would be the target of lawsuits.
Melia is mentioned in the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Miami but has not yet been named as a defendant, since Rivero has opted for a formula that gives the company 30 days to reach a settlement with the Mata family.
If the hotel group does not do so and is sued in the US under Title III, the amount it could be ordered to pay in compensation may triple, the attorney said.
The Mata family has filed a class-action lawsuit, meaning they could be joined by other claimants who had property confiscated by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution, Rivero said.
The San Carlos Hotel, now the Melia San Carlos, was built in 1925 in Cienfuegos’ historic downtown and expropriated at the beginning of the 1960s.
Spain’s government has expressed support to its hotel groups operating in Cuba ahead of possible lawsuits in the US under Title III of Helms-Burton.
The European Union, for its part, said in a press release earlier this month that it deeply regrets the full activation of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and that it considers “the extra-territorial application of unilateral restrictive measures to be contrary to international law.”
Melia Hotels International, meanwhile, reiterated Tuesday that it operates legally in Cuba and owns no assets on the Caribbean island that could be subject to potential lawsuits in the US.