Mickael Behn and Javier Garcia-Bengochea, who hold claims certified by the US government for assets confiscated by the Castro regime, filed suit Thursday in federal court in Miami.
First lawsuit under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act
It was the first day Title III of the Helms-Burton Act became operative.
The Trump administration's recent decision to enact this portion of the 1996 law springs from a crackdown on Cuba's support for the embattled government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. It allows US nationals and naturalized Cubans to seek compensation from foreign firms for the use of their properties appropriated by Cuba's communist government.
Havana and Santiago de Cuba facilities
Behn and Garcia-Bengochea reportedly seek damages in the tens of millions of dollars, Behn for the Havana Cruise Port Terminal and Garcia-Bengochoa for his 82.5% stake in commercial waterfront property in Santiago de Cuba.
According to their complaints, Behn's Havana Docks Corp. owned and used the property since 1917 until it was confiscated by Cuba in 1960, the same year Garcia-Bengochoa's property was nationalized.
Carnival attorney: Authorized travel not liable
George Fowler, a Carnival attorney, told El Nuevo Herald the lawsuits would go nowhere because the Helms-Burton Act excludes liabilities for commercial activities related to authorized travel to Cuba.
'We are continuing with our normal cruise schedule to Cuba,' Carnival Corp. spokesman Roger Frizzell said, without further comment.
Carnival Corp. became the first company in decades to offer cruises from the US to Cuba, starting in May 2016 with the Fathom brand's Adonia. The sailings were allowed under specific categories of travel newly sanctioned by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control under the Obama administration.
Subsequently many other US-based lines received approval for Cuba cruises, provided travelers participate in documented 'people-to-people' cultural/educational exchanges.
US citizens are not allowed to travel to Cuba for the purposes of tourism.
CLIA weighs in
In a statement, Cruise Lines International Association said cruising to Cuba falls under the lawful travel exemption in Title III. 'Our cruise members have been and are now engaged in lawful travel to Cuba as expressly authorized by the US federal government,' CLIA said.
During Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s earnings call on Wednesday, Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said the Helms-Burton change would likely prompt litigation for companies doing business in Cuba. 'We believe we possess solid defenses, and we're not expecting to change our itineraries as a result,' Fain added.
On Thursday afternoon, a Royal Caribbean spokesman told Seatrade Cruise News he was not aware of any litigation against RCL.
A Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question about Cuba.