The proposed law hasn’t made it into many English-language headlines in the U.S. just yet, but Spanish-language outlets are already reporting on today’s proposal, put before the Senate by Senators Marco Rubio and David Vitter, that Cuba repay the U.S. between $7-8 billion for claims that date back to the Cuban Revolution.
Dubbed the “Cuba Normalization Accountability Act,” the proposal mandates that the claims must be paid before the United States takes additional steps to loosen or eliminate travel and trade restrictions with the island — though the Obama administration has already begun to do just that following last December’s announcement of the re-opening of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Senator Rubio, who is running in the 2016 presidential election and is of Cuban heritage, stated:
“Many families and entities in the U.S. and around the world deserve just compensation for the properties the Castro regime seized from them and has been making money off to repress the Cuban people…. At the very least, President Obama and any future president should force the Castro regime to pay back the people they stole from before travel and trade restrictions are eased.”
According to a press release published on Senator Rubio’s website, the $7-8 billion figure represents 8,000 “active legal claims” that have not been resolved, put forth by individuals and corporations whose assets were seized when Fidel Castro came to power.
The timing of the senators’ proposal hardly seems accidental. As some of the major blocks to normalization have begun to be removed — namely, the restoration of U.S. banking services for the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C. and the revelation that the two countries may be close to announcing ambassador appointments — the introduction of the law seems intended to stymie progress.
The question about whether Cuba could even pay such an exorbitant debt was not addressed by Rubio or Vitter in their remarks. According to The World Bank, Cuba’s GDP is about $68 billion and its external debt exceeds $23 billion, making it extremely unlikely that the country simply has a few extra billion dollars lying around to give to the U.S. — even if Cuban leaders wanted to do so.