Exxon Mobil files landmark lawsuit over properties in Cuba

It is the first such suit filed since President Trump let Title III the Helms-Burton Act to take effect, allowing legal claims for property seized by the Castro regime
May 04, 2019 04:00PM

Nico Lopez oil refinery in Havana (Credit: Getty Images)

Exxon Mobil filed a federal lawsuit against two Cuban companies for using an oil refinery and other properties that Fidel Castro’s government seized 60 years ago.

Exxon Mobil is the first American company to file such a suit since President Donald Trump let Title III of the Helms-Burton Act take effect, allowing compensatory demands against companies abroad that benefit from properties the Castro government seized.

After the 1996 enactment of the Helms-Burton Act, Title III had been suspended every six months by previous presidents.

Exxon Mobil filed its federal suit in Washington on Thursday, after Carnival Corp. was named as a defendant in two other complaints filed in federal court in Miami by descendants of owners of port facilities in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, called the Exxon Mobil lawsuit “immensely significant … This provides comfort for other large claimants to sue.”

Exxon sued two Cuban companies called CIMEX and CUPET. Founded by the Ministry of the Interior in Cuba, CIMEX is part of a conglomerate controlled by the Cuban military. CIMEX and CUPET together operate hundreds of gas stations in Cuba.

According to the Exxon suit, the defendants benefit from the gas stations, the Nico Lopez oil refinery in Havana and other properties valued at $72 million in 1960, when the Castro regime seized them from Exxon without paying compensation.

The U.S. Department of Justice has certified just under 6,000 claims by American citizens and companies for properties in Cuba that were seized after Castro took control of the island nation in 1959.

Cubans who attained U.S. citizenship after the Castro regime expropriated their property also are allowed to sue under Title III.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said without elaboration that the Cuban government will protect the companies that Exxon sued.

But if more suits are filed under Title III by plaintiffs with certified claims, Cuba could face pressure “to negotiate a settlement with the 5,913 certified claimants,” Kavulich told the Miami Herald. [Miami Herald]Mike Seemuth