Cuban-Americans register properties seized after revolution
August 29, 1999
From Correspondent Steve Harrigan
HAVANA (CNN) -- What do a stately mansion and a decaying apartment building in Cuba's capital have in common? Both are on a list of properties claimed by Cuban-Americans in Miami as their own.
For about $100, a company called Cuba Claims is registering properties that Cuban exiles say the Castro government seized after the Communist revolution 40 years ago.
"Many of these people would like to register their properties, if nothing else to warn potential investors, foreign investors in Cuba, that that property belongs to them," says company representative Teo Babun.
Burke Hedges' father and grandfather had enormous holdings in Cuba, among them a textile mill outside Havana, a posh building now used by a construction company, and a diplomatic residence.
"It's devastating," Hedges says. "You can imagine that your family works their entire lives to create something for the next generation and overnight it's taken away."
Hedges knows there is little he or any of the claimants can do to retake their properties. Even if the political regime changes in Cuba, the legal process could be lengthy, difficult and possibly fruitless.
"Historically there have been compensation programs, not restitution. In other words money, not give them back the property. And that's most likely what's going to happen," says international law professor Pamela Falk.
Many of the seized properties were commercial, like the telephone company, which was nationalized shortly after the revolution. Others were homes and apartments, where a new generation of Cubans now live.
In a crumbling but once luxurious apartment building, a female tenant says a claimant "can't get it back because this building has been inhabited for 30 years."
"It's not fair that somebody will come from I don't know where to reclaim what he had here," she says.
In some cases, there may not be much left to reclaim. After decades of neglect, many houses and businesses hardly resemble the pictures kept in scrapbooks by the Cuban- American families that once owned them.
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