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American Airlines Sued For Operating On Seized Property In Cuba

Cuban exile José Ramon López Regueiro, right, is suing American Airlines and LATAM Airlines under Title III of the Helms Burton Act.
Cuban exile José Ramon López Regueiro, right, is suing American Airlines and LATAM Airlines under Title III of the Helms Burton Act.

José Ramon López Regueiro says he has watched private companies profit for several decades from property that was forcefully taken from his family.

Now, as the Trump administration has begun enforcing Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, López Regueiro is fighting back.

The Cuban exile is suing American Airlines and LATAM Airlines for continuing operations at José Martí International Airport in Havana without compensating him. López Regueiro, 66, claims his father owned the airport before it was seized by the Cuban government after the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, individuals or corporations that had property confiscated by the Cuban regime can sue companies that use the property in business dealings. 

“I am very happy because this is the time to make justice,"  López Regueiro said Wednesday after his legal team filed the lawsuit in federal court. "I’ve waited 60 years. It’s too much time for one person."

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been suspended by successive presidents since it came into law in 1996. In May, the Trump administration announced it would allow lawsuits under the act to go forward. 

López Regueiro's case is one of several that have been brought against private corporations since Trump’s announcement. A lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines alleges that the company has used confiscated docks to bring passengers to the island.

In a statement sent to WLRN, a spokesman for American Airlines said the company’s travel to Cuba is authorized as lawful by the U.S. government and is therefore exempt from Title III lawsuits. We’ll “vigorously defend our service to Cuba,” he said.

López Regueiro left Cuba in 1989 and has lived in the Netherlands and Spain. He moved to Miami in 2009 and is retired. 

His attorney, Andrés Rivero of Rivero Mestre LLP, said his client is seeking to recover the value of the airport  – estimated at nearly $1 billion. But López Regueiro could potentially receive three times the airport’s value because American and LATAM did not comply with 30-day notices of his intent to sue.

“So we’re looking to recover up to $3 billion for this illicit trafficking,” Rivero said.

Rivero added that if another president decides to once again suspend Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, the case will still move forward. 

More than 40 other airlines operate at José Martí International Airport. Rivero said they should be on notice.

“We have decided to start with American and LATAM,” he said. “We have notified all of the airlines. They need to stop trafficking in Jose Marti International Airport or they will very likely face litigation.”

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

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Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. He has reported on Latin America for almost 30 years - for Newsweek as its Mexico City bureau chief from 1990 to 1996, and for Time as its Latin America bureau chief in Mexico and Miami (where he also covered Florida and the U.S. Southeast) from 1996 to 2013.
After living in North Carolina the past four years, Miami native Sam Turken is back in the city he’s always called home.