A Cuban Family Sues Melia for 10 Million Euros

Melia is the foreign company that manages the most hotels in Cuba with some 34 properties.  (Flickr/Andrew O.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2019 — The descendants of businessman Rafael Lucas Sanchez Hill on June 3 filed a lawsuit against the Spanish hotel group Melia, under Title III of the Helms-Burton law, the suspension of which was ended in May by the Donald Trump administration.

The Sanchez Hills, who live in the United States, seek as compensation about 10 million Euros for the lands, located in the current province of Holguin, which were expropriated from them by Fidel Castro in 1960 and from which Melia benefits by managing several hotels that the Cuban military built on them.

According to a report in The Confidential, it is the first lawsuit filed in Spain against companies of that country for managing expropriated properties in Cuba.  The Helms-Burton law allows the owners of properties confiscated with Fidel Castro’s arrival to power to sue those who “traffic” in those properties.

Previously the Sanchez Hills had negotiated with Melia and were close to an agreement for five million Euros, but seeing the chance of Title III’s activiation as remote, the Spanish company reduced the compensation to 3,000, and there was no agreement.

The Sanchez Hill family fled Cuba after the Santa Lucia LC headquarters and more than 40,000 hectares of surrounding lands were expropriated.  The patriarch of the family had built the headquarters in 1857 after moving to Holguin from Matanzas, but Law 890 of 1960 signed by then-president Osvaldo Dorticos left them with nothing.

In recent decades the military built the hotels Melia Sol Rio de Luna y Mares, Paradisus Rio de Oro, Costa Verde, and Playa Costa Verde, among others, on the expropriated lands.

The family demands in a Palma de Mallorca court that the company compensate them for an amount equal to the benefits the hotels have obtained in the last five years, explains El Confidencial. They also reproach the company for its attitude toward the claims of the owners.

“The illicit character of said confiscation is known by Melia, who for the last 20 years has ignored claims by those companies and families at whose expense it has profited,” says the lawsuit, according to the Spanish newspaper.

Melia is the foreign company that manages the most hotels in Cuba with some 34 properties.  Iberostar is next with 20 properties.  These companies have been heavily criticized by human rights groups and opponents of the regime in Havana for the conditions in which they make their investments on the island.  Until 2008 Cubans were prohibited from staying in the same hotels as foreigners, and the wages of the workers in the international hotels are barely some tens of dollars a month.

“In these 31 years we have made it very clear:  the commitment to Cuba is unconditional.  We believe that it is totally unjust, all these measures,” Gabriel Escarrer, executive vice-president and CEO of Melia Hotels International, said to Cuban state television about the activation of Helms-Burton’s Title III.

“Faced with that, we continue with our road map:  we will continue to collaborate closely with the Cuban authorities to develop the tourist industry of this country, which I believe is exemplary in every way,” he added.  By 2020 the company projects it will have 38 hotels and more than 15,000 rooms in the country.

Escarrer visited the island with the Spanish Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, who tried to issue a calming message to Spanish investors in the island.  “Our will is to continue investing in Cuba and for our companies to have the will to contribute to the development of the island,” said the minister, who lashed out at the U.S. executive and asked for Cubans to pay a debt of 300 million to the entrepreneurs.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel


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