IU says Cuban property deals ‘null and void’
The IU has resolved that historic government and private sector deals involving Cuban real property parcels shall be null and void.
Claims to the titles of real property in Cuba by expatriate families and corporations have come to the fore as part of US-Cuba efforts at reconciliation after fifty-five years of estrangement. The New York Times (Julie Hirschfeld Davis, [Cuban] Property Claims Issue Is Revived, July 19, 2015) reports that the State Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission has received nearly 9,000 applications for resolution, most of them from large American corporations. In 1971 a review purportedly certified 6,000 of them as valid, together having an estimated total worth of $1.9 billion at the time. Claimants today put the total value at $8 billion.
The full IU resolution can be read below.
Resolution on Cuban-American Real Estate Claims for IU Business meeting, Detroit, August 4, 2015
A report by Bill Batt
1. Claims to the titles of real property in Cuba by expatriate families and corporations have come to the fore as part of US-Cuba efforts at reconciliation after fifty-five years of estrangement. The New York Times (Julie Hirschfeld Davis, [Cuban] Property Claims Issue Is Revived, July 19, 2015) reports that the State Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission has received nearly 9,000 applications for resolution, most of them from large American corporations. In 1971 a review purportedly certified 6,000 of them as valid, together having an estimated total worth of $1.9 billion at the time. Claimants today put the total value at $8 billion.
2. The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission is a 1954 reorganization of two prior agencies, established with the purpose of resolving issues arising from World War II. Its website avows that, worldwide, 660,000 matters have been adjudicated to date. In 1972 it issued a 350 page “final report” specifically addressing American claims on Cuba.
3. Only $230 million of the original 1961 total, however, is claimed by families, and some properties involve large estates like that of the Schechter family which owned a 14,000 acre farm, a 17-room mansion in Havana, and a shirt factory. The family left Cuba in April of that year with only the things they could carry, but they have prospered well in the United States, leaving behind the relevance of their half-century-old claims. The soundness and legitimacy of all those past titles to real property, whether from farm enterprises, hotel resorts, mining ventures or any other elements of nature, need to be examined in light of the duress under which those claims were maintained. They arguably had their origins in the long-past colonization and exploitation of Cuba’s people and land. One needs to ask how it was that the 1971 review validated those claims.
4. The work of legal philosophers casts doubt on the strength of these judgments given the origin and history of their status. An example of this discourse is a paper by Cornell Law Professor Gregory S. Alexander titled “The Limits of Property Reparations” published in 2003. Alexander argues that “the case for reparations for such expropriations of property is highly tenuous, both morally and in practical terms.” Not only does the passing of time alter the weight of any claims but so also do the circumstances of all parties involved. The nature of the asset is also likely to have changed along with the meaning and utility it might have for prospective awardees. Recompense taking the form of titles can be totally different and separate from awards of compensation.
5. Recent historical work casting doubt on the merit of legal titles to land parcels in any form lend even greater weight to challenges of ownership, especially since all such claims are rooted in grants of privilege by governments that may themselves have doubtful legitimacy. The circumstances involving Cuban sovereignty prior to 1959 make especially questionable the soundness of property titles that are being contested today.
6. WHEREAS all titles to land parcels and other natural resources of Cuba, as elsewhere, are rooted ultimately in a history of force and fraud, and arguably reflect a history of land-grabs of the most odious quality; and
7. WHEREAS the native Cuban population (while being immigrants themselves) were made tenants in their own country by the elite capture of property titles protected and guaranteed by American oversight; and
8. WHEREAS an awareness of this injustice eventuated ultimately in an insurgency against the Spanish colonial administration beginning in the late 19th century, and culminated finally in the successful overthrow of foreign control in 1959; and
9. WHEREAS the Cuban revolutionary leadership, under Fidel Castro, sought to remedy this insult by making all the natural resources of the nation common property; and
10. WHEREAS the political and economic philosophy inspiring the revolution and underlying the new government’s policies of common ownership were rooted in 19th century ideas, especially in the writing of Karl Marx and Henry George; and
11. WHEREAS Jose Marti was the conduit of the ideas of Henry George, the inspirational leader and continuing icon of the Cuban revolution from its inception to the present; and
12. WHEREAS Jose Marti was an ardent student and follower of Henry George; and
13. WHEREAS Karl Marx also favored making land titles common property to be owned and managed as leaseholds much as did Henry George; and
14. WHEREAS freehold ownership of the elements of nature in any form may ultimately come to be viewed as odious and as illegitimate as the ownership of human slaves, and
15. WHEREAS the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in a system of freehold titles to nature are becoming increasingly apparent at the present time and in many places; and
16. WHEREAS Henry George and Jose Marti both advocated a usufructuary (leasehold) system of ownership involving the public collection of ground rents to support government provision of goods and services; and
17. WHEREAS the Cuban government is now facing the challenge of designing a revenue system for the support of government; and
18. WHEREAS the Cuban leadership may soon face the challenge of addressing property claims by refugees from the island who are former titleholders over fifty years ago, and which the American government deems to be outstanding; and
19. WHEREAS claims to such titles have increasingly questionable and remote validity; and
20. WHEREAS any attempts to resolve such historical claims — in Cuba or elsewhere — will lead inexorably to an infinite regress that can have no solution. (A notable parable makes the point at http://www.wealthandwant.com/docs/Proving_Title.html);
21. WHEREAS the only candidates for any adjustments to such so-called “takings” of real property should be for manufactures added to parcels of nature commonly identified as “improvements,” they should be considered for their special and singular circumstances;
22. BE IT RESOLVED that the International Union for Land Value Taxation, established in London in 1927, as an organization subscribing to the writings and philosophy of Henry George, endorses the vision of Jose Marti that all the natural resources contained on the Island of Cuba — be they land parcels, natural resources, seacoasts, spectrum frequencies, air and water stores, or any other gifts of nature that can be construed as the common birthright of the inhabitants of the island — should be maintained as a common trust for the general public good.
23. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that all past titles to real property parcels on the island of Cuba granted by any government, contract, or in any other way attained shall be null and void.
24. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that any and all parties, both individual and corporate, and both domestic and foreign, authorized to use the resources of nature so identified shall pay to the Cuban society collectively, or the government in its name, a rental value for the privilege of such use, and that the rate established for such payment will be based on their full assessed value.
25. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that no compensation for the taking of such property by the present Republic of Cuba government shall be paid inasmuch as the original titles cannot be demonstrated as legally and morally sound.
26. BE IT RESOLVED LASTLY that any and all the natural resources in the ambit of the Island of Cuba shall be regarded as a public trust of the Republic of Cuba. Moreover, these resources shall be protected and nurtured for all the people, those alive today and those who will inherit the trust as so bequeathed. It shall finally be understood that these resources are to be respected, revered and so treated such that all community members and citizens of Cuba are free to enjoy and prosper in ways that are consistent with their open access.
More discussion at www.theiu.org/members-articles/reports-cuba-trip-georgists.html