The legal wrangle between the U.S. and Cuban governments involves years of rancor and a multitude of legislation so complex that an unwinding is akin to annulling a divorce.
The Cuban government has judicially adjudicated claims against the U.S. for personal injury and economic damages, as explained below.
Cuba also enacted Law No. 80 of 1996, the Law Reaffirming Cuba’s Dignity and Sovereignty, which provides that individuals who themselves or whose family members have been victims of personal injury or material damages as the result of actions sponsored or supported by the U.S. may file claims for compensation.
The governments of the U.S. and Cuba met in December 2015 in order to discuss claims that both countries have against each other, in the context of reestablishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. Although no official information appears have been released on the details of this meeting concerning the Cuban claims, the Brookings Institution reported that the Cuban government claims that, as of 2015, “accumulated economic damages from the US economic sanctions had reached $121 billion.” Cuba also claims personal injury damages from US “acts of terrorism,” including thousands of deaths and disabling injuries, amounting to US$181 billion. These claims were approved by Cuban courts in the two lawsuits described below.
The concept of civil liability in Cuban law used in the lawsuits detailed below is found in the title IV, chapter IV, of the Civil Code, which generally provides that whoever illicitly causes damage to another is required to compensate the victim.
The civil liability provisions of the Civil Code were used as the main legal basis for a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against the U.S. government in 1999. In People of Cuba v. Government of the United States for Human Damages, the plaintiffs sought damages in the amount of US$181.1 billion.
The alleged grounds of this suit were violations inflicted upon Cuba by the U.S. since 1959 through many actions that caused harm and resulted in the loss of lives and injuries to Cuban citizens, including the Bay of Pigs invasion. The case was filed in a Cuban court in May 1999, and a judgment against the U.S. was issued later that year. The main Civil Code provisions invoked refer to civil liability for material and moral damages.
People of Cuba v. Government of the United States for Economic Damages
Another lawsuit was filed in a Cuban Court against the U.S. Government, People of Cuba v. Government of the United States for Economic Damages, in which the plaintiffs sought compensation in the amount of US$121 billion for economic damages resulting from the embargo imposed by the U.S.
The cause of action for damages in this lawsuit was primarily an alleged violations of provisions of the Civil Code on illicit acts. A judgment against the U.S. was issued on May 5, 2000. On May 15, 2015, Granma,the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee, published a report summarizing the evidence presented during the proceedings of this lawsuit as follows:
Experts and witnesses demonstrated that since the beginning of the 60s, U.S. government measures against Cuba implied the loss of markets for its exports, as well as it main suppliers, as 70% of trade was previously conducted with the country. . . .
The blockade measures attempted to prevent all maritime trade with Cuba. The banning from U.S. ports of ships of any nationality which traded with Cuba was imposed, and in force for 14 years, and after a brief period in which this policy was discontinued, the Torricelli Act in 1992 resumed it, resulting in the rising cost of freight and other damages. The evidence demonstrated the economic losses due to the ban on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens; the refusal to allow Cuban aircraft to offer commercial flights to the United States, the inability to use the shortest routes to arrive at certain destinations, the resulting additional layovers and necessary use of technologically outdated equipment, together with many other adverse effects.
The abrupt cutoff from traditional sources of financing both within and outside of the United States, and the huge losses due to frozen assets—arbitrarily made use of—dollar exchange rate moves in foreign trade and external debt, damages due to prices and interest rates, the loss of opportunities for credit facilities and other damages to the external financial sector, were also highlighted.
. . .
On the final day of testimony, a detailed expert report evaluating damages caused by the economic, commercial and financial blockade in various spheres as well as the attacks on economic and social targets, was presented. By early 2000, the blockade had cut short 15 years worth of development for Cuba.
The damages resulting from the blockade at that time amounted to over $67 billion dollars, . . . while those resulting from attacks amounted to $54 billion, giving a total of over $121 billion U.S. dollars. The Court ordered the U.S. government to pay reparations and compensation to the Cuban people for this amount.
Law Reaffirming Cuba’s Dignity and Sovereignty
A footnote to the report noted that “[t]he cost of the blockade is continually updated,” and that the Cuban Foreign Ministry in 2014 valued the damages from the blockade alone at over US$116.8 billion.
Law No. 80 of 1996, the Law Reaffirming Cuba’s Dignity and Sovereignty, declared that the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which strengthened the U.S. embargo against Cuba, is illegal. It directed the national government to adopt measures to protect current and potential foreign investments in Cuba and defend Cuba’s legitimate interests against actions resulting from the Helms-Burton Act.
Article 12 of this law provides for liability arising from several acts allegedly supported by the U.S. It states that individuals who themselves or whose family members have been victims of personal injury or material damages as the result of actions sponsored or supported by the U.S. may file claims for corresponding compensation before the Claims Commissions to be created by the Ministry of Justice, which has the authority to decide on the validity of these claims as well as the amount owed by and responsibility of the US. Information on the existence and operations of the Claims Commissions could not be located.