U.S., Cuba Begin Negotiating Billions Of Dollars In Financial Claims
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We turn next to Havana. U.S. and Cuban negotiators have started what could be the toughest part of their attempt to normalize relations. They're trying to untangle billions of dollars in financial claims made by both sides. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that how the disputes are resolved will set the tone for relations in the years ahead.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: There's a lot on the table in talks in Havana, including 6,000 claims by U.S. businesses and citizens who saw their property confiscated after the Cuban Revolution. University of California, San Diego professor Richard Feinberg says those claims were valued at $1.9 billion in the 1960s, and that's before adding in interest.
RICHARD FEINBERG: Let me just explode one myth right now. It is simply not true that Cuba is so poor that there's no way for them to pay any compensation.
KELEMEN: In a report he issued today for the Brookings Institution, Feinberg says there are ways to negotiate this that will benefit both sides. Payments could be spread out over a decade, and Cuba could offer U.S. companies vouchers to invest on the island or to cover future tax liabilities. And the U.S. could let Cuba join the World Bank and other international financial institutions. Feinberg says he thinks Cuba has good reason to negotiate this.
FEINBERG: Cuba today wants to attract international investment. In order to do that, they need to reduce perceptions of uncertainty and risk. They need to offer a better business climate for both international and domestic investment, and that means resolving outstanding property claims.
KELEMEN: A settlement would not cover Cuban-Americans who lost property before they became U.S. citizens. State Department spokesman John Kirby wasn't raising expectations about this initial meeting today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN KIRBY: The meeting is a first step in what we expect to be a long and complex process, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalization.
KELEMEN: Meanwhile, Cuba is demanding billions of dollars in damages from a decades-old embargo. And if Cuba negotiators press that, Professor Feinberg says the U.S. will only dig in its heels.
FEINBERG: If they stick with that position, then of course there will not be a settlement, and this could drag on as a major thorn in the relation over many years.
KELEMEN: The Obama administration doesn't have that time. Last year, it announced dramatic changes to U.S. policy in Cuba and hopes to leave this relationship on a new course before elections in 2016. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.