December 9, 2015 / 12:08 AM / 4 years ago

U.S. and Cuba exchange multibillion-dollar claims on property, embargo

HAVANA, Dec 8 (Reuters) - U.S. and Cuban officials outlined multibillion-dollar claims against their respective countries on Tuesday as they took up the issue of settling old legal grievances that helped drive the former adversaries apart for half a century.

Now that the Cold War foes have restored diplomatic ties, they have started talks on resolving claims in which the Americans are seeking upwards of $10 billion in compensation for nationalized properties. Cuba wants at least $121 billion in reparations for the U.S. trade embargo and other acts it describes as aggressions against the Communist-led island.

The two sides have been meeting on a range of issues since diplomatic relations were restored in July.

“This meeting is the first step in a complex process that may take some time, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalization,” said a State Department official who participated in the daylong talks in Havana.

Both sides called it a “professional and respectful” exchange in which they outlined the nature of the claims but did not enter into substantive negotiations. They agreed to meet again in the next three months. Cuba issued a brief statement and the U.S. official spoke to reporters on background, according to State Department custom.

The U.S. official declined to say whether the United States would pay reparations for damage from the embargo, which would likely raise hackles from U.S. proponents of maintaining sanctions on Cuba.

Cuban law ties the settlement of the claims to U.S. reparations for damages resulting from the embargo and other acts. Cuban estimates of that damage range from $121 billion to more than $300 billion.

“Both sides in presenting their claims asserted that they expected there would be some kind of resolution of those claims,” the official said. “We can expect that we will hear more about that (embargo reparations) as we proceed.”

After Fidel Castro’s rebels came to power on Jan. 1, 1959, Cuba nationalized all foreign businesses and reached settlements with owners from other countries. The government recognizes the U.S. claims but it cut off negotiations when bilateral relations soured.

Some 5,913 U.S. corporations and individuals have been awarded $1.9 billion worth of claims for businesses, real estate and other assets. Those claims are now worth roughly $8 billion with interest.

In addition U.S. state and federal courts have issued about 10 judgments totaling $2 billion against Cuba, and the U.S. government has other claims. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Tom Brown)

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