A federal judge in Miami ruled this week that four major cruise lines are liable for the use of port facilities that were expropriated after the Cuban revolution. In her 168-page ruling, Judge Beth Bloom wrote that the cruise lines – Carnival, Norwegian, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean – engaged in “trafficking activity” by calling at Havana and showing the city to hundreds of thousands of passengers.
“Using the [Havana] Terminal and one of its docks in various ways, Carnival, MSC SA, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian committed acts of trafficking,” U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom concluded, according to the Miami Herald.
The ruling sets the stage for cruise lines to potentially pay millions of dollars in damages to a US company called Havana Docks, which owned the concession to operate the port of Havana during the time of the Cuban revolution. In October 1960, Fidel Castro terminated the concession and nationalized the company’s holdings, making them state property. The same was done to the Cuban cigar industry.
In 2019, Havana Docks sued the four cruise lines, using “Title III,” a controversial clause in the Cuban Freedom and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD). Passed in 1996, the law states that “any person who . . . trafficking in property which has been confiscated by the Cuban Government on or after January 1, 1959, shall be subject to monetary damages against any person of the United States who has a claim on such property. Since the clause threatened to trigger hundreds of lawsuits against American and foreign companies, offending allies who maintain normal economic relations with Cuba, for more than 20 years, American presidents have waived the application of this section of Liberty law. In 2019, however, President Trump decided to implement the Title III provision, allowing Havana Docks to file a lawsuit seeking damages.
In their defense, the cruise lines cited an exemption in the 1996 Libertad law that allows “transactions and uses of property” in the use of “legal trips to Cuba.” Their tours to Cuba, the court said, were “lawful trips” because they had been explicitly “licensed, authorized and encouraged by the U.S. government” under the Obama administration — and even the Trump administration until 2019 — within the framework of the normalization of bilateral relations.
But Judge Bloom rejected those arguments, ruling that the cruise lines had engaged in “prohibited travel” and “tourism activities” prohibited by the embargo restrictions. Among the activities she cited that did not meet the criteria for legal travel were trips to cigar and rum bars, a trip to Ernest Hemingway, the “Explore Havana by American classic car», visits to the famous Museum of Fine Arts and evenings at the historic nightclub of Havana, the Cabaret Tropicana.
“[It] is part of the regulation of person-to-person travel,” Judge Bloom wrote in her decision, “to encompass tourist activities: visiting monuments, watching shows, drinking rum, smoking Cuban cigars, buying memories and swimming in natural pools”.
Unless a settlement is reached, a Miami jury will hear evidence in the case in May and determine the level of compensation companies must pay to facilitate travel to Cuba.