©1999 Alex Garcia
So I’m walking through Havana one day and see the picture at top and think to myself, that’s pretty amazing. It was 1995. Relations between our two governments were tense but I’m staring at the words “New York”, in the heart of Havana, chiseled in stone. As I found out later, the bank was one of 11 expropriated branches of the National City Bank of New York, which later became Citibank.
The value of its branches when seized after the Revolution was estimated at $6 million.
But Citibank became embroiled in a 22-year battle over the expropriation, in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The decision had implications for how U.S. entities could recoup funds when another country seizes its assets.
Some five years later, I’m walking by the exact same location and looked up. Different sign. Again, I thought, that’s pretty amazing.
Like this branch, thousands of properties across Cuba were confiscated after the Revolution. I have family who came here and had to leave everything behind except what they could carry with them. It’s both a financial and emotional issue. The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission recognizes almost 6,000 claims, the vast majority of them from individuals.
Under the Helms-Burton Act, the embargo isn’t going anywhere until these claims are satisfied. How that will happen would take something of a miracle, given that the Cuban government doesn’t have the money to pay and many of the properties don’t even exist anymore (or are even worth claiming).
Cuba will likely advance the argument that its losses against the embargo should be taken into consideration as well.
Even with the best negotiation and the best signage, there really is no papering over this issue.